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Pies and Tarts With Heart: review and recipe

Posted Oct 21 2013 10:00am

I'm not much of a pie baker. I admit it. I make a pie now and then like the obligatory pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, or an occasional cream pie for a review, but I have issues that generally distract me from pie baking. The biggest one is that I balk at adding large amounts of fat to food, and pie crusts are one of those foods that usually have a lot of fat. I have also been hesitant about rolling out a gluten-free crust, preferring instead to find a way to avoid a pastry crust in favor of a nut crust, grain crust, or other press-in-crust affair. Not to mention that I've never had much of a sweet tooth. I can work around these issues on my own, but here I am reviewing a pie book! When I review a book, I like to make the recipes as written, not adjust them to my preferences.


In spite of my reservations and fears, that's exactly what I did with Dynise Balcavage's book, Pies and Tarts With Heart, and all I can say is, WOOHOO! I made two pies from the book, including one with a rolled-out gluten-free crust, and one with a mashed-potato crust, and you have to believe me when I tell you that they were both amazing, and I wasn't thinking about fat as I devoured them. Because I'd just recently reviewed a dessert book, I was feeling like making something savory, and the book had so many tempting options it was hard to choose just the two I had time to make. Seriously, having a pie book with so many gorgeous photos should be illegal. Truthfully, I kept wavering between the sweet pies and the savory, but finally couldn't resist the Aloo Palak Pie with a mashed potato crust. Oh my. The pie was pretty easy to make, and tasted amazingly delicious. It was all I could do not to eat the whole thing myself. I can see myself making this again and again — with and without the crust. I served it with a side of chickpeas, and it made a wonderful meal.


Although the book is not specifically gluten-free, Dynise provides lots of options for GF baking, and my next pie-making adventure involved making that scary GF single crust. It rolled out pretty easily, and was nice and flaky, but as you can see, it did crack a little after it was baked — I'll need to troubleshoot that. I made the Red Pepper Onion Tarte Tatin, and not only did I have to roll out a crust, I had to bake the pie with the crust on top and flip it over when it was done. I didn't understand from the directions just how much of the crust to trim, so I ended up with quite a bit of overhang. In spite of the technical difficulties, the taste was excellent. We enjoyed our tarte alongside black beans and steamed kale.

Pies and Tartes with Heart has lots more savory recipes like Cornish pasties, Mexican Tortilla Pie, Quiche, etc. etc. etc., but let's move on to the sweet stuff. Every manner of traditional fruit and sweet vegetable pie, including one made with only your favorite jam and a crust, fills the first section. Some examples are Cherry or Blueberry Pie, Gingered Pear Pie, Shoo-Fly Pie, Retro Strawberry Pie, and Pumpkin Pie. Then there are the cream pies — like Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie, S'more Pie, Frozen Spumoni Pie, Frozen Chocolate Mudslide Pie, etc. Next we have citrus pies and tarts like Lemon Fluff Pie, Lemon Bar Pie, and Chocolate Orange Curd Pie. There's also a collection of raw pies, nut pies, fancy pies, and pie toppers, plus of course, recipes for multiple types of pie crusts. All in all there are more than 60 recipes.

In addition to the 60+ recipes, there's a section covering pie-making 101, where Dynise provides all the information you need about ingredients, techniques and equipment to have you up and rolling in no time. Recipes that can be made gluten-free are noted, as are fast, low-fat, kid-friendly, raw and no-bake recipes. And, there are handy tips and informative notes throughout the book. Pies and Tarts With Heart is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photography by Paul Runyon.

Dynise Balcavage is the author of two previous cookbooks, The Urban Vegan and Celebrate Vegan. She blogs at urbanvegan.net .

Quarry Books has graciously allowed the recipe for Aloo Palak Pie to be reprinted.


Aloo Palak Pie with Mashed Potato Crust

Mashed Potato Pie Crust (one 9-inch crust)
We usually think of vegetables as pie filling and not pie bases. But I like to flip things upside down on occasion. Some vegetables, like the potato family, make wonderful savory crust bases. Carbolicious and comforting, mashed potato crusts are economical and an interesting way to transform leftovers into a literal meal base. You can use mashed white potatoes, sweet potatoes, or even mashed turnips or rutabagas. Or mix and match.
  • About 5 potatoes, peeled and baked, or "nuked"
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons (28 to 42 g) margarine
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons (30 to 60 ml) nondairy milk (to bind, if needed)
  • ½ teaspoon salt or more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Mash with the margarine and milk until creamy. (Use a potato ricer to save time!) Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Aloo-Palak Pie

Aloo palak without ghee is one of the darlings of vegan Indian cuisine lovers. This 'reconstructed' version uses all the flavors of aloo palak that you love, in an unexpected pie presentation. It’s loaded with vitamins and it’s cheaper than takeout.
Makes one 9-inch (23 cm) tart

For Spinach Filling:
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 to 1½ teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon red hot pepper flakes (optional, but I use the full Monty!)
  • 7 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
  • 12 cups (360 g) roughly chopped, trimmed spinach or baby spinach, preferably organic
Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC, or gas mark 4).

Press the crust into the pan. Set aside.

To make the filling:
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the spices, then the garlic and onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt if the mixture starts to dry out.

Add one-fourth of the spinach, let it wilt, stir, and repeat until all of the spinach is in the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes. Spread into the crust.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until firm. Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of the book. All opinions are my own. I was not paid for my review.
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