Confession: pie crust is my anathema. Pretty much any other item in the cooking realm works, but pie crust is what would be hidden in my kitchen’s dungeon if it had one. The solution has been turning to phyllo when I (very occasionally) do want something pie-like to prance out of the oven. It remains that while the filling is definitely crunchy cooking at its best, the crust, well not so much. Even home-made pie crusts – whole grain or not – aren’t the healthiest food choice out there. But given the Holiday season fast approaching, a compromise or two can be forgiven, for the sake of a classic and convincing spread to impress friends and family.
What you need for the filling:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped into large pieces
- 1 lb cremini mushrooms, 2 packages, quartered or halved
- 1 large carrot, cut into thick chunks
- 2 potatoes, cut into thick chunks, peeled if desired
- 1 teaspoon sage powder
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon savory
- 1/4 teaspoon clove powder
- 1 cup pot barley
- 2 cups unsalted vegetable broth or water
- 5 tablespoons tamari, divided
- 2 tablespoons flax seed, ground (optional)
What you need for the phyllo pastry crust:
- 16 or more sheets phyllo pastry
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
What you do:
Note: This recipe does require a food processor to get the look and texture right – be warned before hopping on board and buying all the ingredients.
- Pulse the onion in the work bowl of a food processor with a regular chopping blade. The idea is to finely mince the onion but not purée it.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium flame.
- Scrape the onion from the work bowl into the heated oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent.
- While the onion is cooking, set the work bowl and blade of the food processor back into place (no need to wash it) and pulse the mushrooms into fine pieces. It’s easiest if they’re halved or quartered first since otherwise they’ll tend to roll around rather than get chopped up. Scrape down the sides as required ensuring even chopping throughout.
- Add the minced mushroom to the cooking onion, stirring occasionally until they soften and give up their juice.
- While the mushrooms are sweating, set the work bowl and blade of the food processor back to work again (still no washing) and pulse the carrot and potato until they’re finely chopped.
- Add the chopped carrot and potato to the juicy mushroom mix and set aside the food processor.
- Cook the vegetables, stirring, 2-3 minutes more and add the spices, barley, broth or water and 2 tablespoons of the tamari.
- Bring to a boil and then cover, lower heat and simmer 40-45 minutes until the barley is cooked, stirring once in a while to prevent sticking.
- Uncover and cook another 15-20 minutes at low heat in order to evaporate the excess water in the mixture: it should be moist and sticky when you’re done with it.
- Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of tamari, turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
- For the crust, begin by making sure that the phyllo pastry is completely thawed. Next put the olive oil in a small bowl or cup and take out a basting brush of some kind along with a deep dish pie pan (or two regular pie pans). If you’ve never worked with phyllo before, be warned that it takes a bit of practice. It tends to dry out very quickly and so it’s best to keep it covered with a damp cloth between manipulations and make sure that exposed pieces are well oiled.
- Oil the pan generous. Fold a sheet of phyllo in half, brush liberally with oil on one side and place it, unoiled side to the pan, across the pan. Press well so it takes the shape of the pan. Repeat, placing the next sheet of pastry cross-wise over the first so that the edges of the pan are evenly covered with phyllo. Continue in this way, criss-crossing the sheets around the periphery of the pan until you’ve built a crust of the thickness desired: 4 sheets is pretty much a minimum, more can be used if you like.
- For a stiffer pie (mix), add the optional ground flax to the cooled filling at this point and mix well.
- Mound the filling into the deep dish pan (or divide between two smaller ones), pressing well to create a thick and mounded pie.
- Repeat step 13 to make a top crust of the thickness desired.
- Trim the edges of the phyllo so there’s about 2’’ of crust flapping all around the filling. Roll the edge around to make a neat edge to the pie, sealing it all together. Use a small knife to cut a few steam venting holes in the top.
- When ready to serve, preheat oven to 375F. Place the pie in the oven and cook 35-40 minutes, until the filling is heated through and the crust is golden and puffed.
- Slice and serve.
- Add a chopped clove of garlic to the onion in the food processor when mincing;
- Substitute the potato with an equivalent amount of celery root or turnip for a different but equally satisfying flavour;
- Use a regular rolled pie-crust instead of phyllo.