BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pie-Eyed

Pie, a beloved comestible known in countless forms across the globe, is as ubiquitous across cultures as it is indefinable. Sweet or savory; open-faced or closed; family-style, or single-serving; ornate, or humble; there is no single definition for the concept of pie, but I think we can agree that all permutations are entirely delicious. Every 14th day of March, otherwise known as Pi Day (3.14,) gives the otherwise mathematically averse a reason to bust out the rolling pins and embrace the pastry of honor.

Food historians generally agree that the earliest pies were more closely related to enriched flatbreads with various toppings than deep-dish desserts, which illuminates the link between pie and yet another universally cherished provision: Pizza. In fact, old school establishments still refer to them as hybrid “pizza-pies.” The lines become increasingly blurry depending on who you ask, the general consensus being that all pizzas are pies, but not all pies are pizzas. Got that?

Nomenclature notwithstanding, I was inspired by my Connecticut roots on this particular Pi Day, recalling the inimitable New Haven invention known as white clam pie. Leave the tomatoes behind and instead load up on the cheese, garlic, and herbs. Adding squishy morsels of seafood into that matrix might sound downright repulsive on paper, but once veganized with briny marinated mushrooms, the combination suddenly makes perfect sense.

Re-imagined as a genuine pastry-clad pie, a flaky pastry crust supports a base of soy ricotta, generously seasoned with satisfying umami flavors. Skewing ratios to favor the filling, what was once a decadent, buttery pastry is now a rich yet balanced dinner entree. Even the thinnest slice will prove surprisingly filling, considering the serious protein packed into every square (or should I say circular?) inch. Though not a perfect mock for mollusks, the cruelty-free clams bear an impressive oceanic flavor profile, adding all the right salty, savory notes.

No doubt, there will be a plethora of crusted wonders for dessert today, but why wait for the last course to begin the festivities? A savory dinner pie will start things rolling in the right direction.

White Clam Pie

Vegan Clams:

1/2 Pound Small Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Quartered
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Bay Leaf
1/4 Teaspoon Celery Seeds

Okara Ricotta:

1 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
6 – 8 Cloves Roasted Garlic
3/4 Pound Dry Okara*
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Finely Chopped
3 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

For Assembly:

Your Favorite 9-Inch Pie Crust, Rolled and Shaped but Unbaked
Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
Lemon Zest (Optional)

*If you can’t find okara in local markets and don’t make your own soy milk, you can substitute one 14-ounce container or super-firm tofu instead. Press it for at least two hours to extract as much liquid as possible, and crumble it finely before using.

To prepare the “clams,” begin by melting the vegan butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, until softened and aromatic. Introduce the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes to infuse the mushrooms. Uncover, and continue to cook gently until any remaining liquid has evaporated. Discard the bay leaf and set aside.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling, mix together the vegan yogurt and roasted garlic in a large bowl, mashing the cloves thoroughly into a rough paste in the process. If you would like a smoother finished texture, move everything into the bowl of your food processor, but if you’d something with a bit more character, continue stirring by hand. Add in the okara and mix thoroughly to incorporate, being sure to break up any clumps. Introduce all of the remaining ingredients for the ricotta, stirring well until the mixture is is homogeneous. Fold in the mushroom “clams” last.

Transfer the white clam filling into your prepared pie crust and smooth it out into an even layer. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set but slightly wobbly, almost like a firm cheesecake. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Top with freshly chopped parsley and lemon zest, if desired, and enjoy.

This pie is an ideal make-ahead meal, since the flavors only improve with age and it’s easier to slice after it’s had more time to rest. Simply cover and chill after baking for up to 5 days. To reheat, pop it back into the oven at 350 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes, until heated all the way through.

Makes 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Big Fish in a Small Pond

If we can all agree that 2013 was the year of the coconut, then I do hereby declare 2014 the year of the vegan fish. Perhaps the trend isn’t quite so widespread or pronounced- You’re not about to find mock seafood woven into everything from granola bars to non-dairy beverages, thank goodness- but it’s a distinct and growing section of the innovative food industry. While the demand for cruelty-free alternatives has grown to a deafening roar over the past decade, meatless offerings never included any oceanic facsimiles. It was the last frontier of veganism, but no more.

I first became aware of Atlantic Natural Foods and their Vegetarian Fishless Tuna back in the cold days of winter, and thanks to my snail’s pace of turning out a review, they have since updated their branding. It now falls under their Caroline’s line, bearing a shiny new label, but the product itself remains the same. Soy-based and packed in a tin can just like the “real” thing, it’s the only fishless canned tuna on the market. Gone are the days of Tuno, but anyone who misses the stuff should be thrilled; Caroline’s is a clear improvement.

That said, for anyone unaccustomed to fishy flavors, steel yourself as you pop the lid for the first time. The pungent aroma hits you right away, and unfortunately, it’s not exactly an enticing one. Smelling quite a bit like cat food, it doesn’t look too much better, either. In all fairness though, real canned tuna has always grossed me out, even when I was an avid fish-eater. Appearing to be little more than TVP in water at first blush, a flaky yet substantial, satisfying texture reveals itself at first bite, imitating the grain of cooked tuna surprisingly well. Leading with an unmistakable oceanic flavor, only a slight soy aftertaste gives away its true origins. Though first impressions may not be stellar, it’s pretty darned close to canned tuna, as far as I can recall, and I found myself quickly warming to the unique taste. Best of all, it’s not just a starchy copycat like many of the existing konjaku-based faux-seafoods, but has some real protein to speak of, making it a sound nutritional choice all told.

Though I would venture to guess that 95% of buyers will inevitably turn their fishless tuna into good old fashioned tuna salad, I wanted to go with a lighter, cleaner presentation to really highlight the mock meat. Composing a platter of tuna nicoise salad was a real treat, since it took almost no effort for a huge flavor payoff. Chickpeas tossed with a touch of sulfuric black salt took the place of hard boiled eggs, and the tuna itself needed only a light dressing of olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, and a handful of sliced scallions to really sing. I couldn’t get enough of this veggie-packed plate, devouring the entire thing in record time.

What I truly yearn for when it comes to seafood, though, is Japanese food. Considering that fish really makes up the foundation of this cuisine, the potential for even a canned alternative is nearly limitless. Sushi would have been the obvious (albeit undoubtedly delicious) route, so I instead opted to make a delightfully briny, somewhat salty furikake topping out of my remaining fishless fixings. Serving to both extend this rare ingredient while also extending its shelf life, you really get the most bang for your buck when it can be used over the course of countless meals. Plain old sushi rice comes to life with just a light sprinkle of this simple condiment, but the sky’s the limit when it comes to topping potential. Think of the salads, french fries, popcorn, and noodles that could all benefit from a little extra umami. As long as you don’t include it as an option at your next ice cream social, I’d say all the rest is fair game.

Fishless Furikake

1/2 Cup Very Thoroughly Drained Vegan Tuna
2 Teaspoons Tamari
1 Teaspoon Mirin
1 Teaspoon Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Toasted White Sesame Seeds
2 Tablespoons Toasted Black Sesame Seeds
1 Sheet Toasted Nori

Preheat your oven to 225 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Simply toss the “tuna” with the tamari, mirin, and oil to thoroughly coat. Spread it out into one thin, even layer on your prepared baking sheet and slide it into the oven. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, until darkened in color, reduced in size, and dry to the touch. They may not feel crispy just yet, but they will continue to dry as they cool.

Cool the fishless tuna flakes completely before combining them with both types of sesame seeds. Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the sheet of nori into inch-long strips. Stack the strips on top of each other and then cut them into very thin ribbons, just a few millimeters wide. Add the nori into the mixture, stir well, and store in an air-tight container at room temperature. The furikake will keep for at least a month, possibly longer- I couldn’t save any long enough to find out!

Makes About 1 Scant Cup

Printable Recipe

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