For some people, pie can be an outdated emblem of American domesticity, meant only for Thiebaud paintings, diner countertops and comedy sketches. But to me, the humble baked dish is everything.
I grew up in a household where pie was prevalent, spring, summer, fall and winter, whether filled with the season’s greatest hits—cherry, peach, apple, pumpkin—or stick-to-your-ribs meat, veggies and potatoes. Pie is a perfectly acceptable breakfast item when paired with a morning cup of coffee, or snuck in as a late-night snack. It also cures a hangover on a Sunday afternoon. No matter the time or the ingredients, my family has polished off slice after slice over the years, all of us huddled together in the kitchen.
My grandmother and mother, the ruffly apron wearing types, still judge people by their pies. The crusts need to be perfect—not too thick, not too soft—and the filling just the right amount of sweet. Ingredients? None of that stuff from the can. If you’re able to get your produce right from the farm, you must. Because there’s really no excuse for skimping on ingredients when it comes to feeding your nearest and dearest.
During the holidays, a warm pie has a magic way of bringing people together—as a shared dish, as a gift for the benevolent host, and perhaps as a way to fill an awkward silence. (As David Mamet wisely wrote, “Stress cannot exist in the presence of pie.”) Everyone loves a comforting slice, because pie is love.
With this in mind, I asked Natasha Pickowicz, pastry chef at Foragers Table, for a few of her favorite recipes. I thought I knew pie before meeting Natasha, but she takes the traditional baked good to the next level.
Earliest pie memory?
Growing up, I spent a lot of summers on the coast of Maine, where my grandparents lived on a windy, rocky island in a shingled house. For a treat, my parents took me to Moody’s Diner, this awesome roadside spot that’s been around forever. I’d either go for blueberry or apple pie. Always with vanilla ice cream.
What is the best kind of pie for a sleepy, wintry Sunday morning?
Cold fruit pie. Whatever you have in the fridge. Dribble heavy cream on top. Eat with a big mug of hot coffee and a great book.
And for a hangover?
Torta rustica stuffed with leftovers! Drape your pie crust into a dish and fill with anything and everything hearty—roasted potatoes, grated cheese, diced salume, day-old wilted bitter greens, canned tomatoes… Unbelievably satisfying and savory. And then you can take a big nap afterwards.
What is your current favorite?
Right now at Foragers I’m making a free-form delicata and acorn squash crostata, with a thick, tangy gruyère and crème fraîche custard dusted with fresh sage. It’s awesome for breakfast (the dish is on our brunch menu), but it would also be so lovely as a light dinner with a chicory salad and crunchy pistachios.
LATE AUTUMN CROSTATA
½ cup crème fraîche
1 egg, divided
½ cup gruyère, grated
2 tablespoons sage, chopped
2 small squash, mixed (we’ve been using delicata and acorn squash, as they have great scalloped edges and the skins are thin and delicious)
salt and pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Note: Ready your favorite pie crust dough, rolled out into a 10-inch circle and chilled.
1. Cut the squash into thin half-moon shapes. Toss generously with salt, pepper and olive oil, to taste. Set aside and let sit for an hour. The salt will draw out moisture from the squash.
2. Whisk together the egg yolk, crème fraiche, gruyere, and sage until smooth. Using the back of a spoon, smear the mixture evenly over the rolled-out pie crust. Then fan out the slices of squash in a thick layer, leaving 2 inches around the sides. Working in a circle, gently crimp up edges of the crust.
3. Let chill before baking. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, brush pie edges with the reserved egg white and sprinkle generously with flaked sea salt. Bake for 30-45 minutes, rotating halfway through, until curst is deep, golden brown and caramelized. Sprinkle with sage, add a big crack of black pepper, and enjoy immediately.
To get baking, explore our Pie collection.