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Recipe-phile: Swiss chard, rosemary are on the 'chopping block' for pie, cookies

It's funny ... going to the grocery store when you're hungry is a bad idea (because you tend to overfill the cart) but going to the garden hungry is a good one (because you tend to overpick).

When I'm hungry I'll pick like crazy, snap off every spindle of broccoli, hunt down every bean, lug it all inside and dump it on the kitchen counter. At which time I become, in addition to starved, overwhelmed.

But I've devised some of my best recipes when faced with abundance. This week the swiss chard - its leaf canopy fit for a rainforest - was my challenger.

Right away I knew I wanted to try a Tourtes des Blettes. It's a flat pie from southern France filled with lightly sweetened swiss chard, raisins and pine nuts. To me, the only clue that they eat it as a snack or a dessert comes from its traditional powdered sugar-sprinkled crust. But in my house, a swiss chard pie constitutes dinner.

I decided to cut the sugar but to keep the caramelized onions, pine nuts, capers and raisins. And because the pie comes from the south of France where they prefer olive oil over butter, I tried an olive oil-based crust, hoping that it would taste slightly less confectionary, and more authentic, than one made with butter.

I turned to a recipe from a thick book by Alain Ducasse, the most famous chef in France and the one whose restaurants there currently hold the most Michelin stars. It just goes to show that you can't ride on reputation when it comes to cooking (or, that French flour and American flour vary widely). The crust sunk like a lead sinker. Literally, the dough was heavy.

I reduced the amount of oil and tried again. This dough felt better - lighter - but my rolling pin split it into a mess of puzzle pieces. Way too tender. As I poured a golden stream of olive oil into my measuring cup for the third time I began to see the light. This dough was made of money!

Five dollars worth of olive oil (and many hours) later, I still don't have it just right, so for now I'm going back to a crust I know and love. My cousin Bev's crust is sure-fire, always flaky, and it's made with good old reliable butter.

But just when I was starting to feel bad about the time lost on this project, I got an idea. Sprinting outside to grab a pinch of rosemary from the herb garden, I quickly minced it up with a spoonful of sugar, rolled the dough balls in it and sprinkled them with more rosemary sugar.

After baking my second pan of these, it seems conclusive: I may have botched the pie dough, but I have gained an excellent new cookie recipe. The dough is too tender to roll out as a crust, but it makes a compelling little pastry: faintly sweet and almost painfully fragile, the olive oil flavor is strong but doesn't overwhelm.

Instead, it lends a decadent moistness and a certain grown-up air to a simple shortbread. I'm already thinking about Christmas and cookie plates and a time when extravagant baking is in season. And I think that topping these with gold dragees would feel appropriate.

Swiss chard pie

Bev's crust:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and diced

1 egg yolk

milk to make 2/3 cup


1 large onion, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 pounds swiss chard or kale or a mixture of the two

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup raisins

1 tablespoon capers, drained

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix 2 1/2 cups flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the diced butter and cut in with a pastry blender until the largest piece of butter is the size of a small pea. Drop the egg yolk into a small liquid measuring cup and add milk until it measures 2/3 cup; whisk together with a fork. Dribble the liquid into the flour mixture, holding back a little to see if it needs it all (usually, it does). Mix with a fork until the dough comes together. It will be moist, but still crumbly.

Press into a lump, divide in two and form into two disks. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the greens and chop; let drain in a colander. Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 2 Tablespoons butter in a very large pan over medium heat. Add the onions and salt and cook for 10 minutes until wilted. Lower the heat a bit and cook the onions until lightly caramelized - tan in color and beginning to taste sweet - another 20 minutes. Add the minced garlic, raisins, capers and pine nuts and cook a minute. Add the cleaned, chopped greens in three batches, stirring and cooking to wilt the first before adding the next, until all the greens are wilted. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the stems are tender. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the grated parmesan and turn out into a bowl to cool slightly.

Roll out the bottom crust and lay in a 9-inch pie plate. Roll the top crust. Pour the filling in the bottom crust and smooth out. Top with the second crust. Trim the edges to within 1/2 inch of the edge, roll under and pinch the edge to seal. Cut a little hole in the middle of the crust to let steam escape, and slit vents if desired.

Bake the pie at 375 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the crust is dark golden brown and the juices are bubbling.

Olive oil and rosemary shortbread cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and diced

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons + 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup olive oil

1 egg yolk

3-4 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary

You can make this by hand or in the food processor.

By processor: Combine the flour, salt and 2 Tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the diced butter and pulse until the texture of coarse meal. Drizzle in the olive oil and pulse until combined. Whisk the egg yolk with 3 tablespoons milk. Pour the egg mixture through the hole in the processor lid and pulse until the dough comes together, adding the last tablespoon milk if necessary. The dough should be moist, but still crumbly. Turn out onto a counter and press the dough into a lump. Let sit for 30 minutes.

By hand, mix the dough as for pie crust: Mix together the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons sugar and cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, mixing until it has the texture of coarse meal. Add the olive oil and mix with a fork until combined. Whisk the egg yolk with 3 tablespoons milk. Pour in the egg mixture and mix until the dough comes together, adding the last tablespoon milk if necessary. The dough should be moist, but still crumbly. Turn out onto a counter and press the dough into a lump. Let sit for 30 minutes.

To bake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the minced rosemary and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl. Scoop the dough by the heaping tablespoonful and roll into balls. Roll each ball in the rosemary sugar. Press onto a cookie sheet in rows, forming a little divot in the center of the cookie with your thumb. Sprinkle a little more rosemary sugar in the divots. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until light golden brown. Cool before storing in an airtight tin.