And I always thought baking was for control freaks. Silly me. Kate McDermott—aka the Pie Lady, dubbed “the rock star of pie” by Seattle Magazine—is not your typical baker. She doesn’t worry about humidity or get hung up by exact measurements. She goes against the grain, which is her way. It’s more of a Zen thing. “Feel the dough,” she likes to say, only half-kidding.
The evening began with a trip out to the chicken coop, where Kate nabbed fresh eggs. Next she unwrapped a tan disc and slapped it on the counter: the dough, just liberated from cold storage. At that moment it could have been dropped at center ice by a man in black and white pinstripes. “Rule number one,” she said. “The only rule. Chill out.” She handed me a mixing bowl. This, too, was zamboni cold.
Of course, like much of what she says, Kate’s admonition to chill has multiple meanings. As I started to roll out my hockey puck of dough she stopped me. I was thinking too much. “I’ll change the music,” she offered. You need the right music to roll by. The smooth vibes of Seal soared out of Kate’s kitchen speakers; I remembered how an old three-pinner friend of mine swore by this record for a fresh foot of powder in the back-country.
Kate’s own style of rolling is more along the lines of the whirling dervish variety. She dances to the music, swings her hair to and fro, and belts out an Aretha Franklin chorus during the next song.
This all helps to explain why she calls her business Art of the Pie—as opposed to, say, Science of the Pie. More dionysian than apollonian, Kate’s vision is for a world filled with pies, in which pie is merely the starting point for better things to come. “It’s a movement,” she laughs. Her own part in the movement can be measured by the 50 pounds of leaf lard she goes through each month, the 75 pounds of weekly apples in season, and the hundreds of students who have graduated from her four-hour class with a determination to spread the gospel of pie.
As for me, the proof was, indeed, in the pie, with a crust of flakey perfection and a savory filling that highlighted the brightness of wild weeds. Really, I can’t recommend this recipe enough. It’s a version of a classic, using stinging nettles instead of spinach, to superior effect. Our tweaks included the addition of leeks, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, and lemon juice.
I learned a lot during this pie-making session, and though I won’t go so far as to say my new skills are ready for prime time, Kate has put me on the path to a fresh understanding of baking with her pie-making mojo.
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
3 leeks, thinly sliced (discard green tops)
20 oz stinging nettles, blanched and squeezed dry
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
fresh nutmeg to taste
2 tsp lemon juice
1 10-inch pastry for a double crust pie
1 tablespoon water
1. In a skillet over medium heat, saute sausage, leek, and garlic.
2. Separate one egg and set the yolk aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg white and remaining eggs. Mix in nettles, mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and sausage mixture.
3. Line a deep 9 or 10-inch pie dish with bottom pastry (with a 9-inch dish you will likely have leftover filling). Add filling. Cover with top pastry. Trim, seal, and flute edges. Cut slits in top. Beat water and remaining egg yolk; brush over top.
4. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then lower heat to 400 degrees for another 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.