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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Upper Crust

My dad was my hero.  When our family moved back to the United States after living overseas, we left behind our nannies, caretakers,  and housekeepers. Without Frau Olga or Ababa cooking for our vagabond traveling troupe, my dad had to fend for himself. For us. Apart from his occasional batches of fantastic sticky, savory, and sweet Boston Baked Beans, he had an arsenal of meals  loaded from top to bottom in our drab pea-green overhead  freezer. My dad totally embraced the notion of Banquet and Sawnson TV dinners. They were easy and quick to prepare. He was a single father who worked a lot and had to feed two growing boys. As a military officer (and in pure military fashion),  he kept our frozen stash of TV dinners filed like books. Left to right, by title.  Frozen edible books.

Stacks of small frozen beef and turkey pot pies anchored his arctic library. The variety of frozen stuff seemed endless and I adored it all. I grew accustomed to mashed potatoes sweetened with cherry pie filling, salisbury steak glazed with chocolate pudding, and  buttered sweet corn spiked with apple sauce.  Glistening on top of compartmental aluminum foil trays, those frozen treats were fun, flawed, and adventurous.  Life was good.

Michael and I love to wrap our lips around pot pies, but I rarely make them because I suck when it comes to making pastry and pie dough. We both have issues with restaurant versions because they're never pies. They typically consist of pretty bowls loaded with savory fillings topped with flaky flavored biscuits, cornbread, or beautifully browned  puff pastry poofs. Toppers. Tops without bottoms.  Pot pies should have both.

I gambled and took a chance.

The Crust.

I had phyllo pastry dough. Paper thin flaky phyllo dough. Yep.  Think about it.The filling didn't really matter. I could have used any filling. Beef stew, creamed chicken, stewed eggplant, lobster bisque, or vegetable succatash would have worked beautifully. I imagined that a lightly spiced lamb and eggplant Greek Moussaka topped with eggy bechamel would have been splendid.  I used  turkey because,...well, I had a lot of leftover turkey.

It wasn't about the filling, it was all about the crust.

After bagging up and freezing the pretty slices of leftover turkey, I chopped the remaining scraps into bite sized  pieces and made a basic roux by cooking  2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of flour. When the flour cooked out a bit, I added 1 cup of warmed cream and 1 cup of  warmed chicken stock. As the sauce thickened, I tumbled a handful of sliced snow peas, green peas, halved black olives. pimentos, and the reserved turkey into the creamy mix. I seasoned the pot pie filling with salt, cracked black pepper, and grated nutmeg before pulling it from the heat to cool.

While phyllo can be fussy and finicky to work with, it's very forgiving.  If a sheet tears, who cares?  Butter it and slap it into place.

I thawed a sleeve of frozen phyllo dough overnight in the refrigerator and unfolded the delicate sheets, covering them with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out. Layers were key. 10 layers for both the top and bottom of the pot pie. I melted 1/2 cup butter and swirled it into 1/2 cup olive oil. After buttering 10 individual sheets of phyllo, I layered them into a 10 inch fluted Bybee Pottery dish, tucking the extra dough in, around, and under the edges of the dish before spooning the creamed turkey onto the bottom crust and covering it with 1 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese.

I repeated the 10 layer process for the top crust and placed the sticky slab on top of the cheesy  turkey filling. I initially intended to bake the top crust flat, but decided to poke the dough into the edges to seal the pie. I buttered one last sheet of phyllo and draped it over the top like a wind blown tissue. That was it.

I slid the enormous pot pie into a 350 degree oven and let it rip for 45 minutes until it was gorgeously browned and crisped.

After smashing the crust open with a large spoon, the feathery phyllo sheets shattered like broken glass, creating a crackingly creamy fabulous mess.

It was wonderfully ridiculous.

From top to bottom.

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