I love the Gardner Museum Cafe Cookbook, because who doesn't want to cook luncheon pies and party like its 1890? I also love the photos in the book from the archives at the museum taken during many of Gardner's fancy dinner parties. Everyone looks so relaxed in their tight-fitting Victorian outfits.
I made the ratatouille pie recipe last night from this cookbook. I have to admit to having felt a bit stressed. I remember when I was in college and reading in the bath a short story in The Atlantic about a doctor who got to Friday night and collapsed and thought to himself "This is professional life?" I remember thinking "That can't be right, clearly you finish all your school assignments and the whole rest of life is easy." Where I got this idea I can't ever recall. When I was a kid it was always all this pressure to do well at each thing so that you could get onto the next thing ("You better be perfect in high school so that you can go to college!", "You better be perfect in college so that you can go to grad school!", "You better be perfect in grad school so you can get a job!"). At some point that is your entire life you are rushing through with all sorts of pressure. It isn't always about the next thing - and for that in life we have pie crust. My entire young adult life probably would have been different if I had found any task that allowed me to live in the moment as much as rolling out a pie crust does.
The hands-on process of breaking up the butter in the flour, the stirring of the ice water in the mixture, the rolling out of the dough - its enough to make you think. I spent years feeling as though parts of my life were spread out in pockets of geography - memories here and there, important friends there and over there. One can feel compartmentalized - a combination of unrelated, far-flung versions of oneself, like when you visit those places you are who you were when you lived there. I can now say though that I am happy here in my thoroughly modern life - as a present day Betty Draper who spends most of her energy at her job, a die-hard Real Housewives of Every City fan who spends most weekends reading books, a half 16 year old girl and half 80 year old woman who thinks the world's biggest compliment is when my student assistant says I remind her of Mindy Kaling. I am happy here with a closet filled with Mad Men dresses, contemporary Some Girls pieces, and more flea market accessories than most people might know what to do with. I am happy here with piles of craft supplies and books ranging from silly to scholarly (Drinking and Tweeting, I'm looking at you). I am happy here with kitchen filled with wedding presents from all the people we enjoy remembering, as well as a food processor, Penzey's spices, and vintage linens. I feel grateful for a home that gives me a sense of stability as well as possibility. That's not as easy as one might think, but take the time to make a recipe like this, and you'll see.
For a 9-inch pie or quiche
Sift together 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon salt into a large bowl. With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in 1/3 cup cold shortening (I put the shortening in the freezer for a little bit before) and 2 tablespoons butter until pea-sized pieces form. With a fork, mix in 5 tablespoons cold water ( I put ice in the measuring cup to keep the water cold) 1 tablespoon at a time, until large balls form. Flour a work space and rolling pin (I use a rollpat like this one). Roll out the dough until it is large enough to fit the pie plate or quiche pan with a 1 inch overhang. Line the pan, being careful not to handle the dough too much. Fold under the edges and crimp.
I think at this point that you should work the surface with fork pricks, and bake just the pie crust for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees with pie weights or rice or dried beans on top of aluminum foil on the crust. Once I didn't do this when I made a quiche (since the recipe doesn't say to), and I felt that the crust was soggy under the filling.
Heat 6 tablespoons butter (I would probably feel free to use less) in a dutch oven over low to medium heat. Saute 1 large diced onion, 8 cloves minced garlic, 1 large diced green pepper, 1 large diced red pepper, and 2 stalks diced celery until the onion is soft and clear. Add 1 cup sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas), 3 small zucchinis (I bought my zucchinis from the Berry Patch at the Troy Farm's Market, you could also use less zucchini and some eggplant instead), and saute for 5 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup pitted and chopped black olives, 1 cup tomato purée, 1/4 cup tomato paste, 1 cup red wine (I used Hob Nob Wicked Red), some chopped up parsley (or basil or oregano), salt, pepper, 2 cups washed and trimmed spinach leaves, and a half cup grated parmesan. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the excess liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat.
Spread the mixture in the pie shell. Heat 2 tablespoons butter (again I'd feel free to use less, this cookbook gets a little crazy sometimes) in a frying pan over low heat. Stir in 1 cup herbed bread crumbs and toast lightly. Sprinkle them over the top of the pie.
Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes depending on what kind of pan you are using. The recipe says to serve it topped with sour cream, but I honestly don't think it needs it.
Cut it, put it on a plate, close your eyes, pretend you are in France.