~ What's Up Doc? A Carrot Pie w/Gingersnap Crust ~
In the Fall, we all flaunt our favorite recipes for pumpkin, squash and sweet potato pie. Well, it's Spring now, and I am here to tell you: anything a pumpkin, a squash or a sweet potato can do, a carrot can do better. It's got way more flavor than a pumpkin or a squash and a lot less calories than a sweet potato. There's more: besides being a great source of vitamins and minerals carrots contain more natural sugar than any vegetable aside from beets, which intensifies during the cooking process. Also, I have it on good authority, it's the Easter Bunny's favorite dessert!
I believe I've loved carrots since the day my mom fed me my first spoonful of Gerber strained carrots -- right out of the jar. Next to onions and celery, the carrot gets used often in my kitchen. I'll eat carrots raw, boiled, sauteed, steamed or roasted. I like them candied, pickled or marinated. I have no ax to grind with folks using canned or frozen carrots as a time saver. I love carrots in soups, stews and braises, I make a great carrot souffle, and, let's not forget carrot cake.
Carrot lovers all love carrot cake, and, besides a heavenly host of ethnic Easter desserts, carrot cake is a universal favorite. I am not here to argue that point. I am here to offer you an intriguing alternative, and perhaps, a recipe you've never heard of or given any thought to. There is a first for everything, and, my first experience with carrot pie was on a trip to Dallas in the latter 1980's in Neiman Marcus's Zodiac Room. It appeared on the menu as "Helen's Carrot Pie."
In case you've never heard of Helen Corbitt, she was a gal from NYC who was hired as the food-service manager for Neiman Marcus in Dallas, TX, during 1940's and 50's, for the Zodiac Room, the restaurant in Neiman Marcus's flagship store. Stanley Marcus declared Helen "the Balenciaga of food", Earl Wilson said "she's the best cook in Texas" and LBJ just plain loved her.
Texas Monthly magazine referred to her as "Tastemaker of the Century" and wrote: "In the years B.C. (Before Corbitt), Texans had no artichokes, no fresh raspberries, no herbs except decorative parsley, only beef (chicken-fried, barbecued, or well-done), potatoes (fried or mashed and topped with a glop of cream gravy), and wedges of iceberg with sweet orange dressing." "Into this bleak culinary landscape came a young Yankee named Helen Corbitt. In a career that spanned nearly forty years in Texas, she delivered us from canned fruit cocktail, plates of brown food, and too much bourbon and branch into a world of airy soufflies, poached fish, chanterelle mushrooms, fresh salsify, Major Grey's chutney, crisp steamed vegetables and fine wine."
"to the men in my life"
and, in her introduction (which is fascinating) she writes:
"... these recipes I have put into book form are ones my customers have asked for time and time again. Strange as it may seem, it has been the male half of the universe with which I have made gastrononomical friends, and I work overtime catering to their likes and dislikes. However, I do not believe that the man who says he likes a thick steak and a green salad always feels that way. Perhaps it is in defense, who knows? Anyhow, I say "I love men" -- tall ones, short ones, old ones, young ones, fat ones, thin ones:
"All men. All the ones who eat. And they all eat!" ~ H. Corbitt
Helen's Carrot Pie, sometimes referred to as Zodiac Room Carrot Pie, was baked in a typical pastry crust and it was very good. My decision to substitute a gingersnap crust for the pie pastry was an easy one since carrots and ginger are classically paired together in savory recipes (two of my favorites being Candied-Ginger Carrots and Creamy Carrot-Ginger Bisque). There's more. While I started out with their recipe for the pie filling, which provided no instructions for cooking the carrots, I made several changes, which makes this recipe kinda my own:
I cut the amount of evaporated milk in half, added 2 extra egg yolks (which allowed me to skip the cornstarch completely), cut the amount of sugar in half, doubled the amount of ground ginger, swaped out cloves for nutmeg, and, substituted caramel flavoring for vanilla extract.
3 ounces salted butter, melted and slightly cooled (3/4 stick)
~Step 4. Using a tablespoon, spread the mixture evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Using a wooden tart tamper, flatten/compress the crumbs to form an even crumb crust across the bottom. When the bottom is in place, use a tart tamper in conjunction with your fingertips to press the crumbs against the sides of the pan. Bake the crust on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven for about 7-8 minutes, or, until slightly firm to the touch and fragrant. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely. While crust is cooling:
2 large eggs, + 2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons caramel flavoring
~Step 1. Peel carrots and cut into 1/2" coins, placing them in a 4-quart saucepan as you work. Add enough cold water to cover and add 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to a simmer and cook until carrots are very tender, about 7-8 minutes. Drain into a colander and rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process.
~Step 2. Transfer carrots to work bowl of of food processor fitted with steel blade. After using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses to chop the carrots, stop to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula, then, process until smooth, about 10-15 seconds.
Going into a 325 degree oven to bake until set, 35-40 minutes:
Special Equipment List: food processor; 1-cup measuring container; rubber spatula; 9"-round pie dish; tablespoon; tart tamper; cooling rack; vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; hand-held electric mixer
Cook's Note: For another one of my Zodiac Room inspired recipes, click into Categories 5, 9, 10 or 20 for ~ Perfect Popovers: When doing less really is More! ~. Pretty, puffed-up, golden-brown pockets of crusty, light, airy carbohydrate perfection, they served theirs with a sublime strawberry butter.
"We are all in this food world together."
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutti/Copyright 2016)