Monthly Archives: March 2009

get yer pies here!

I’m at my desk, working. A package arrives. It’s from N.Y.C. I don’t even need to look at the address, due to the way it’s packed, I know it’s from Gran Fran.

Her typical packing-box style requires a recycled box from Amazon, or some other online retailer, and a piece of 81/2 x 11 printer paper with my name and address written on it in large black Sharpie. The final touch, which is the real reason I know it’s a Gran-Fran delivery, is the copious amounts of packing tape she uses. I think she believes someone will tamper with her precious cargo, whether it’s books, food or toys. The tape is layered on so thick and tight you can’t get into the box without a very heavy duty box cutter. No scissors can make a dent in her packaging.

What is in the box this time is well worth protecting, with as much packing tape as one has available. Gran-Fran has sendt her yearly Easter package complete with bread baskets with Easter eggs nestled inside, chocolates for Iz and little trinkets. Oh, but the best food in the package are the Italian pies.

Gran-Fran’s Pizza Rustica and Pizza Grana are like nothing I’ve ever tasted. And, I can re-create them (see the recipes below), but it is oh-so-special to receive these in the mail every year. It’s like a little gift just for me, since Iz does not like either of the pies.

The Pizza Rustica is a savory pie, which most will refer to as a heart-attack-on-a-plate when they hear what’s in it, but well worth throwing caution to the wind to experience the salty goodness. It involves not one, not two, but FOUR kinds of meat, three kinds of cheese, ricotta and six eggs. Not good for those of us with high cholesterol (me) or high blood pressure (salt-tastic), but again it only happens once a year, so I make sure to eat light when I know the box is on its way.

The Pizza Grana is a sweeter pie, but not cloyingly sweet. It uses orange flower water, ricotta and barley in a lovely crust. This pie has a much lighter taste than it’s cousin, the Pizza Rustica, but it is oh so satisfying.

Okay, back to the present day. Once the package arrives, and I spend hours removing the packing tape, I reach in and smell the goodness. Each pie is wrapped in its own wrapper. Again, in true Gran-Fran fashion, the pies are placed in waxed paper (2 layers, thank you very much) then wrapped in aluminum foil, then snuggled into plastic bags. She then scotch-tapes them closed with a small scrap of white paper identifying which pie is which. Again, the unwrapping begins, and once I have made it to the actual pie, I am in heaven.

To be clear, Gran-Fran is the reigning queen of freezing fresh goods and sending them across country. She once made several hundred cupcakes for a party here in SF, froze them, wrapped them in the above fashion and shipped them out. They got lost in the mail, arrived about a week later, and were still frozen. So, there is no need to fear the freshness factor of her shipped pies, since they are likely to still be slightly frozen, if not very cold, upon arrival.

I am back at my desk, with the box open, the pies unwrapped and a napkin on my lap. Even though they taste better heated up, I don’t bother. I just eat them out of the box, Homer Simpson-style right there and then. So good! And, no sharing, either. I can make these pies last for two to three weeks, even though it’s usually just a quarter of each pie.

So, a big thank you to Gran Fran for fulfilling my Easter wish of meat, eggs, cheese and deliciousness.

Buona Pasqua!!

PIZZA RUSTICA (also known as Pizza Chiena)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

* 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 3 sticks ice-cold unsalted butter, diced
* 1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water

1. Combine flour and salt. Use a pastry blender or an electric mixer at low speed to work butter into flour mixture, and form coarse crumbs.
2. Gradually add enough water to form a dough that just sticks together. Wrap dough in waxed paper and refrigerate while preparing filling.


(All meats and cheeses should be thickly sliced and diced into 1/2 inch cubes.)

* 1/4 pound prosciutto
* 1/4 pound Genoa salami
* 1/2 pound soppresatta salami
* 1/4 pound Sicilian salami
* 1/2 pound conventional mozzarella, or scamorza
* 1/4 pound fontina cheese
* 1/4 pound asiago cheese
* 2 cups whole-milk ricotta, drained well
* 6 eggs
* Freshly ground pepper to taste

For Glaze

* 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk


1. In a large bowl, combine all meats and hard cheeses; set aside. In another bowl, beat together ricotta, eggs, and black pepper; set aside.
2. Divide dough in two, with one piece slightly larger than the other. On a lightly floured board, roll out larger piece of dough, and gently fit it into a 9 x 12 (approximately) nonreactive casserole dish; leave an overhang of an inch or two of dough. Roll out second piece of dough to fit over top; set aside.
3. Pour combined meats and cheeses into pastry-lined dish; pour ricotta-egg mixture over the filling.
4. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with water. Add top crust. Roll edges of top and bottom crust together; flute edges.
5. Brush top crust with egg/milk glaze. Cut a circle in top crust to allow steam to escape.
6. Place casserole on baking sheet. Bake for 75 minutes or until the tip of a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Place on cooling rack; allow to come to room temperature before slicing. Serve at room temperature or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Pizza Grana
1 1/2 cups flour (Heckers or other all purpose, unbleached)
1 stick ice-old unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
Ice water 4 tablespoons or as much as you need

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

1. Mix salt and flour. Cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add enough water to make a rollable dough. Wrap in waxed paper; refrigerate 20 minutes or so.

1/3 cup pearl barley
Pinch of salt
Cook barley, according to package directions, until tender.
Drain barley well if any liquid remains.
Return barley to pan
Add: 1/3 cup warm milk
¼ cup sugar
Rind of a whole navel orange
2. Simmer mixture over medium heat until milk is absorbed.
Allow mixture to cool.

To cooled mixture:
Add 1/2 cup sugar
3 cups whole milk ricotta
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1 teaspoon vanilla
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
Stir mixture together.
3. Line a 9 or 10 inch Pyrex or ceramic pie plate with dough. Save 1/4 of dough to cut into strips.
Pour filling into pie pan.
4. Cut strips and lay in a lattice pattern over the filling.
5. Place filled pie pan on a rimmed cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 375. Cook 30 to 40 minutes or until filling is puffed and golden brown. Cool pie on rack. Refrigerate for storage when cool or serve as soon as cooled.

Posted in baking, easter, italian-american, orange flower water, pizza grana, pizza rustica, proscuitto, salami | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Crepes at 6AM

In keeping with the theme of cooking at any hour of the day or night, I got up this morning and made 20 crepes for Ms. Iz’s class at school. It didn’t seem so crazy on Sunday night when we had our friends over for a dinner party. But, in the light of day (or, I should say, the dark-of-ever-rainy-SF morning), with a kitchen full of dirty dishes and breakfast, lunch, and dog to deal with, not so good.

Here it is, Iz asked me to make crepes for her school for Mardi Gras. Yes, it was a week late, and all, but I agreed since it’s such a nice thing for your kid to bring in something special to share. It must be mentioned here that she attends a French school. In hindsight, I was insane to agree to make such a treat for a bunch of real French people, but I wasn’t thinking of that.

What was going through my mind, was how Gran Fran, no matter what, would send me off to preschool (then known as Nursery school) with fresh-baked treats for whatever holiday was being celebrated. I attended a Jewish Nursery school (long story, short, even though our family wasn’t Jewish, the private Nursery school was willing to take me a year earlier than the public school) and so Gran Fran made many challahs, and even hamantaschen cookies for Purim

Oddly, this is the first time I’ve made the connection between putting Iz into a French school as a non-French person, and my Jewish Nursery school experience. That being said, it just shows to go you that you can never walk far away from you past. Gran Fran is always on my shoulder saying “What? So, you get up a little early? What’s it going to cost you … a little sleep?” This, from a woman who seems to need no more than 5 hours of sleep a night. Who knows if that is a product of raising five kids, what with all the worry and all, or if she was always that way.

On Saturday before she left for her Dad’s house, she asked if I had bought the crepe pan and Nutella yet. I assured her the purchases would be made before she returned the next night. I did get everything, Iz made the batter, and then, with many cooks in my kitchen, we tried to make the crepes. There was the learning curve to deal with, having never made crepes, the burn Iz got on her finger whilst trying to flip one, and the inevitable boredom that comes from making the same thing over and over. And, that, my friends, is how I ended up making these at 6AM on a Monday.

The crepes, as it turned out, were a huge success. Iz was very proud to report back that she got to serve them and was able to have two with Nutella for herself. She was the only one who brought crepes, with some of the other kids supplying donuts the week before, or other sweet treats. So, in the end, Gran Fran was right (as usual). Who needs sleep when you can supply such joy with a little bit of flour, butter, milk and eggs?

Crepes ala Iz

Makes 25 crepesYou will need a flatish-round, nonsticl pan, or better yet, a nonstick crepe pan.


  • 1cup flour
  • 1cup milk
  • 1/2cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • pinch of salt


  • Mix all ingredients well in a food processor or blender until smooth.
  • Let the batter stand for 30 minutes, undisturbed.
  • Heat the non-stick crepe pan over medium heat.
  • Spray a light coating of vegetable oil on pan.
  • Pour batter slowly into center of pan. Then, quickly pick up pan and twist the handle to move batter around into a thin coating.
  • Leave undisturbed on medium heat for 3 minutes, until edges begin to curl a little.
  • Flip the crepe over. Cook another 2 minutes and flip onto a plate.
  • Cover finished crepes with a clean kitchen towel while making the others.
  • Serve immediately with Nutella or sugar rolled inside.
  • If storing, simply make a stack of crepes and wrap in plastic wrap.

Adapted from The Joy of Coking

Challah ala Gran Fran

Yield: 2 loaves


  • 1 cup warm water (100 to 110 F)
  • 2 packages (1/2 ounce or 4 1/2 tsp) Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 1/4 to 5 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • Poppy Seed and/or Sesame Seed, optional


Place 1/2 cup warm water in large warm bowl. Sprinkle in yeast; stir until dissolved. Add remaining water, sugar, margarine, salt, and 1 1/2 cups flour; blend well. Stir in 3 eggs, 1 egg white (reserve 1 yolk), and enough remaining flour to make soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 30 to 45 minutes.
Punch dough down. Remove dough to lightly floured surface; divide in half. Set aside 1 half. Divide remaining half into 2 pieces, one about 2/3 of the dough and the other about 1/3 of the dough. Divide larger piece into 3 equal pieces; roll to 12-inch ropes. Place ropes on greased baking sheet; braid. Pinch ends to seal. Divide remaining piece into 3 equal pieces. Roll to 10-inch ropes; braid. Place small braid on large braid. Pinch ends firmly to seal and secure to large braid. Repeat with remaining dough to make second loaf. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 30 to 45 minutes.
Beat reserved egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water; brush over loaves. Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seed, if desired. Bake at 400 F for 20 to 25 minutes or until done, switching positions of sheets in oven halfway through baking time. Remove from sheets; let cool on wire racks.

Source: Fleischmann’s Yeast, a division of Burns Philp Food, Inc.

Hamantaschen Cookies ala Gran Fran

Dough Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Butter (salted, or add a pinch of salt)
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 teaspon Baking powder
  • 1 Egg
  • Vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Milk
  • 2 cups Flour

Filling Ingredients

  • 1/4 lb. dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

Method (Dough):

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Cream butter sugar and add egg.
  • Mix and sift flour and baking powder and salt and add some of mixture to creamed butter and sugar mixture.
  • Add the milk and rest of flour. Add flavoring.
  • Roll dough out, cut into rounds and place spoonful of filling on each round.
  • Fold up 3 edges to form triangles and pinch the corners so they’ll hold their shape in the oven.
  • Bake at 375 F. for 15 to 20 min. depending on size.

Method (Filling): you can use apricot jam (or whatever flavor you’d like) or make your own:

  • Cover apricots with 1/2 cup water.
  • Cook over low heat in covered pan for 15 minutes.
  • Mash and add sugar while hot, then add 2 tablespoons water.
Posted in baking, butter, challah, crepes, hamantaschen, kids | Tagged , | 2 Comments