Irene Kuo's Stir-Fried Celery in Meat Sauce
Amanda Hesser's Beet Salad with Horseradish and Fried Capers

Amy Scattergood's Bruleed Pumpkin Pie


Oooh, the frustration! It burns, it burns. Man! Here I was, absolutely inundated with beets, I mean, beets coming out of my ears, beets in the crisper, beets on the stove, beets in a Tupperware hidden in the office fridge, beets, beets, beets. My CSA had a glut of beets, you see. They actually called it the Year of the Beet. And so we ate a lot of beets. For most of September and October, we ate beets every time we had dinner at home. In November, I staged a little protest. I let those funky, rooty things hang out in the fridge for a while - our farmer told us the beets would store just fine in the crisper drawer and so I took her at her word. Bah. Tonight, I come home, armed with a new recipe for beets that was sure not only to taste delicious, but also be interesting enough to tell you all about (none of that toasted walnut/feta-or-is-it-blue-cheese/mint/been-there-done-that stuff), and furthermore, finally rid me of the last pound or two of beets ghosting about my fridge - and what happens? The beets went soft. Soft and wrinkly and totally grody-to-the-max, as my seven-year-old self would have told you. I stood in front of the fridge, stamped my foot, and threw the beets in the trash. So long, beets. 2007 is coming to a close anyway. May 2008 be the Year of the Something Else Entirely, please.

So, anyway, while I try to figure what else I can have for dinner tonight, I'll tell you about the pie I made for Thanksgiving. Yeah, yeah, I know - snooze. Who cares about Thanksgiving when there's Christmas to look forward to? (No roast goose for me this year as we're celebrating in Brussels - with oysters!) Well, some people, like the person I happen to share an apartment with, think that it's an abomination and a personal affront that pumpkin pie is associated with only one holiday a year. And you know, I actually tend to agree. Okay, so eating pumpkin pie would probably be strange in late June, when all you should be doing is eating soft, swollen, juicy fruit out of hand - but I don't really see why the third Thursday in November is the only Thursday in the year that really gets to own pumpkin pie.

And if you're making this pumpkin pie, the one that Amy Scattergood contributed to the LA Times's absolutely gorgeous Thanksgiving spread this year (color-coded - totally genius!), then I think you'll agree it could stand to be eaten on quite a few more Thursdays per year. And Fridays. And Saturdays, too.

First of all, the crust? A marvel. Amy credits it to Deborah Madison and I have to say it's absolutely wonderful. Faintly lemony and speckled with nutmeg, it's flaky as all get-out and a delight to eat.

Then the filling. First of all, you know that anything with Armagnac in it will turn out deliciously, don't you? You should. So that's a relief. Then, you can totally make this with canned pumpkin because that's, more relief, what the recipe calls for. (Though you should know, too, that it works out very well with freshly roasted and pureed pumpkin as well - which is what we, because we are apparently total over-achievers, did on Thanksgiving. Like there wasn't already enough stuff to do.) Thirdly, it has cardamom in it! Any pie (or bread or cookie or pudding, let's be frank) that has cardamom in it is destined to be a hit; it's simply written in the stars.

The only small (ish) problem is that you kind of have to plan ahead, like, make the pie the day before you're going to eat it, because it has to chill sufficiently before you can sprinkle sugar on top and brule it into glamly burnished perfection. We may roast our own squash for pie, but we do not plan ahead - at least not when we are at my father's house. But that's okay (yes! this pie rules), because if you are like us and can't make that happen, just add the final 1/4 cup of sugar, meant for the bruleed crust, to the filling and no one will ever know the difference. Your pie will be balanced and flavorful and delicious, with that softly yielding inside and that delicately crisp outside.

Oh, and one more thing: Do yourselves a favor when you make this, and be sure to have seconds. Because otherwise the pie will be gone in one fell swoop around the dinner table and there will be nothing - no cold slice in the morning for breakfast, or the next evening as a soothing dessert - left. But of course, that ends up making the very point I started with, that this pie shouldn't just be for that one night a year. So, buy two cans and plan ahead. Who cares that Thanksgiving's over? What are you doing this Thursday night?

Bruleed Pumpkin Pie
Serves 8

Pie crust
2 1/„4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
3/4 cup (1 1/„2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1 egg, separated
Scant 1/„2 cup ice water

1. Place the flour, salt, nutmeg and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes and add the cubes to the flour, pulsing 4 to 6 times to break up the butter.

2. Combine the vinegar and egg yolk in a measuring cup and add enough ice water to bring the volume up to one-half cup. Add the liquid in a steady stream to the food processor, while pulsing, until the flour looks crumbly and damp, 25 to 30 pulses. The crumbs should adhere when you gather them together with your fingers.

3. Turn the dough out and divide into two equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic wrap and press into a disk; refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Roll out one piece into a 12-inch circle, one-eighth-inch thick. Trim the edges flush with the rim of a 9-inch pie pan, place the dough circle into the pan and gently press the bottom and sides to fit. Roll out the other piece to a one-eighth-inch thickness and cut leaf shapes out of it. The leaves can be cut using a leaf-shaped cutter, or by hand using a stencil (ours was 1 inch by 3 inches) and paring knife. Using the back of a dinner knife, press a pattern into each leaf: Press one crease down the center, and 5 or so on each side of the crease. Mix a little water into the reserved egg white and, using a pastry brush, brush a little of the mixture around the edge of the pie crust. Press the leaves around the edge of the crust, overlapping them slightly and using the wash to adhere them, then brush the assembled crust with the wash. Freeze the pie crust for at least several hours and up to overnight.

Pumpkin pie filling and assembly
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons Armagnac
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup superfine sugar for bruleeing

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, cream, milk, eggs, egg yolk, Armagnac, light brown sugar, white pepper, cloves, cinnamon, allspice and cardamom until blended. Pour the mixture into the frozen pie shell and bake for 15 minutes, turning once for even browning. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake 25 to 30 minutes more, rotating again. Remove and let cool until room temperature. Chill overnight.

2. Just before serving, carefully fold strips of aluminum foil over the leaf-covered edges of the pie, being sure not to cover the custard. Scatter the superfine sugar evenly over the top of the pie and brulee under a hot broiler until the sugar caramelizes. (Or use a brulee torch if you have one.) Serve immediately.