At some point during the Carter administration, my mother clipped out a recipe from Parade magazine for Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie, the winning entry in the Pillsbury Cook-Off of 1980. If that sounds to you like I filled out an “80s Americana” edition of Mad Libs to create that sentence, then I think we’re on the same page here. (I might throw in a Buick station wagon, plaid school jumper and a Cabbage Patch doll for a more complete picture of my formative years.)
Mrs. Millicent Nathan, née Caplan, of Boca Raton, Florida (yessss!) was awarded $40,000 for her recipe, which featured a crust of Crescent rolls, summer squash and half a pound of Kraft mozzerella cheese. Her entry was later inducted into the Pillsbury Hall of Fame and “donated” to the Smithsonian alongside Peanut Blossoms (Freda Smith of Gibsonburg, Ohio) and Tunnel of Fudge Cake (Ella Rita Helfrich, Houston, Texas). What a country!
Mrs. Nathan’s zucchini pie was absolutely delicious. And still is, presumably, though I really haven’t made it since I started weaning myself off heavily processed foods. There are notable exceptions to my whole foods guideline, namely caution-to-the-wind Super Bowl munchies (Velveeta cheese dip! Pigs in blankets! Barbeque potato chips!) and the occasional Diet Coke. That’s just fine by me. Everything in moderation including moderation, oui?
I wanted to make a scratch version of this childhood favorite, but a few rounds of updates to Millicent’s pie didn’t really work. The flavors were all there: sweet summer zucchini, the dried Italian herbs and the vinegary dab of grainy mustard, the pie’s winking-distance relationship to quiche. But a whole wheat crust was too heavy for the delicate flavor of the zucchini, and a par-baked crust went soggy. I considered giving up. Maybe there was some kind of magical property known only to Pillsbury Crescent rolls that allowed for a balanced result? (What’s in those things anyhow?)
Thoroughly pre-baking the pie crust in a 9″ fluted tart pan finally ensured the crust kept crisp. (If you don’t have a tart pan, just keep the ratios more or less intact and add a bit more custard and zucchini to a regular pie pan.) Consider the timing below approximate; your oven may run hotter or cooler than mine, so just keep an eye on the crust to make sure it’s baked through before adding the filling.
The tart would be really lovely as a main with a crisp salad and a glass of wine, or as a side dish with grilled kebabs (another of my mom’s greatest hits). I like to think that Mrs. Nathan of Boca Raton, Florida would approve.
Zucchini and Onion Tart
inspired by Millicent (Caplan) Nathan’s Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie
- 1 C onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 C zucchini, thinly sliced into coins
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tbsp heavy cream
- 1 tsp salt, divided
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 Tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
- 1 C gruyère cheese, shredded
- store-bought frozen pie crust or homemade pâte brisée
Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a baking sheet inside the oven.
Thinly roll out your pie dough and line a 9″ fluted tart pan. Line the dough with foil and add a handful or two of dry beans (this will help weigh down the dough so it doesn’t puff up or shrink in the oven). Bake for 12 minutes (on the baking sheet) at 400 degrees.
Turn heat down to 350 degrees and remove foil and beans from the tart pan. Pierce the bottom of the tart shell several times with a fork. Continue to bake for 15 minutes. (Meanwhile, prepare egg mixture.) Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the dough with the egg mixture (this will seal any of the fork piercings, if needed; reserve the remainder for the filling). Bake the tart shell an additional 5 minutes or until fully set and baked through.
For egg mixture: Lightly whisk two eggs, 2 Tbsp of heavy cream, 1/2 tsp salt and freshly cracked pepper.
For vegetable mixture: Over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add zucchini coins, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper and dried herbs and cook, stirring occasionally to coat, 5-8 minutes. Take off heat. Let cool.
After pre-baking the tart shell, slightly spread 2 Tbsp grainy mustard on the bottom of the shell. Toss 1 C shredded gruyère with the zucchini mixture; arrange the mix in the tart shell. Gently pour the egg mixture over top (go slowly to avoid overfilling and spilling over the edge of the tart). Bake for 35-40 minutes. De-pan onto a wire cooling rack. Serve warm, or reheat in a 350 degree oven until warmed through. (The pie is best warm to highlight the melting texture of the zucchini; if it’s cool or at room temperature it feels a little slimy, in my opinion.)