It’s not very often that we get challenges from the musicians we interview — and while it’s not necessarily a precedent we want to set, we sure do like a challenge. Elizabeth was interviewing Tokyo Police Club drummer Greg Alsop in anticipation of the band’s performance at the Calgary Stampede’s Coca Cola Stage on Sunday (July 6) and when she got to her “What’s your favourite kind of pie” question, Greg was ready with a dream pie that he had never seen or tasted. In other words, a challenge that Julie was more than willing to take on.
But we’ll get to that later. In addition to pie, Greg was game for talking about all kinds of food topics, including festival food (over the years they’ve played Coachella, Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, Roskilde, and just about every other huge gathering of awesome bands) and how to eat right when rockin’ out night after night (after night) is a necessity. The band are currently supporting newest album Forcefield, released earlier this spring.
Rolling Spoon: So, you cook! What are some of your specialties?
Greg Alsop: I don’t anything that involves a recipe with lots of steps. I don’t like cooking anything that involves an oven, I’m way more stovetop. I like just throwing a bunch of things in a pot or a frying pan and then tweaking it as I go. So a lot of soups, stews, stir fries, “s” foods mostly, I guess is what I cook. Oh, and I’m really good at oatmeal. And salads.
You guys have played a lot of festivals over the years and it’s summer festival season now. Is festival food usually pretty good in your experience?
There’s usually a lot of food at those things. When we first started to play festivals years ago that was when you, as a guy in your 20s, would get fed exactly as you wanted to. The ones that had unlimited access were amazing. When we went to the U.K. for the first time we were playing festivals in the summer, and we learned to just raid the food tent as often as possible. And if you ingratiated yourself to the cooks early in the day you could always come back at the end of the day and they would give you anything that they were going to throw out or pack up. So, meat platters, or usually some soup or sandwiches would stock your bus for the rest of the day.
Yeah! Especially when you’re in your early 20s, free food is the most exciting thing in the world. Well, next to free booze.
Yeah! And they had both! So it was great. It was the rock star life everyone talks about! It was so much better than truck stop pastries and bags of chips.
You guys are playing the Calgary Stampede. Do you have any favourite fairground or carnival food?
I can do a bratwurst or a sausage. But fairgrounds are pretty awful — they have those funnel cake stand or something in the foreign category but it’s always just orange ketchupy pad thai. If we can leave the grounds for food we usually go somewhere else. And in Calgary Diner Deluxe is our favourite spot.
So I’m not going to see you at the corn dog booth?
No, I can’t do that. You can’t play with that kind of stuff in your stomach. If you end up doing that every night you’re just going to waste away in the van. There are spots in America where they have really good drunk food — in Seattle there’s a hot dot stand that has cream cheese and grilled onions, that’s always a must if you’re going through there. Victoria has really good fish and chips at Red Fish Blue Fish, in Calgary there’s Diner Deluxe — but you have to plan ahead if you want to go for it.
You’re living in Boston right now? What are some of the best restaurants there?
The restaurant in the venue we played last time we played here — The Sinclair — has great food, great hamburgers and ribs and the cocktails are really good there. There’s a lot of seafood here. If you go down to the Quincy Market they have really good chowder, it’s kind of a touristy place, but they take their chowder really seriously here, so any chowder you’re going to get is really good. And then we’re having lobster rolls for the first time tomorrow!
What is your favourite kind of pie?
I have a dream pie. I haven’t made it myself, no one has made it for me, and I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. It’s got pear, ricotta cheese, honey, cranberry and toasted walnuts. And it’s got to have a cross-hatch roof on top, not an open pie.
So… the pie. We couldn’t let this ricotta dream pie remain a thought – it had to come to fruition.
Ricotta pie is an Italian thing, often studded with dried fruit, citrus or chocolate for Easter dessert. It’s bound by eggs, sweetened with sugar, and most often open-topped; but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a lattice crust. And so we made it so.
A standard pastry crust – half butter, half lard, for flakiness + flavour. Rolled by wine bottle because Julie’s kitchen is currently half demolished, the rolling pin packed away in a box somewhere.
The pears were diced and sauteed – hoping this is how they were imagined. With a cover on top, you’d lose any aesthetic benefit to slicing and fanning them, and this way not only are they more evenly dispersed, they can be sauteed in butter first for added flavour and to get rid of any excess liquid.
Two pears are better than one. Stirred into a mixture of ricotta + eggs + honey, and a bit of vanilla sugar, although you could just use vanilla and sugar.
Also: cranberries and toasted walnuts. A perfect pairing, albeit not overly summery.
A lattice isn’t as scary as it looks. And it’s a good thing to know how to do for summer pie season.
Instead of plopping your top crust atop your pie, cut the pastry into strips. Lay a bunch across, spacing them however you like, then fold back every second strip. Lay a strip crosswise, folding the strips back over it, then fold the other ones back. Does this make sense? You’ll figure it out. Remember – the more imperfect it looks, the more rustic it will be. When it comes to pies, rustic = good.
Also? No one will complain of a wonky lattice when you bake them a pie. Especially one dreamed up by Tokyo Police Club.
Trim excess pastry from the edge (scissors work well for this) and crimp with a fork or your fingers.
If you like, brush the crust with a little beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar; we left it plain. If the edge is darkening too quickly in your oven, cover with strips of foil. This wasn’t necessary for us, but every oven is different.
This pie slices best when chilled, which makes it kind of perfect for summer after all.
Tokyo Police Club Pear, Ricotta & Honey Pie with Cranberries & Walnuts
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup lard, chilled and cubed
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cubed
1 large egg
2 pears, diced
2 Tbsp. butter
1 475 mL container ricotta
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
3 large eggs
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 tsp. vanilla
In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Add the lard and butter and blend with a pastry cutter or food processor until it’s blended with some pieces of fat the size of small peas.
Crack the egg into a glass measuring cup and add cold water to make 1/2 cup. Stir with a fork to break up the egg. Add to the flour mixture and stir just until the dough comes together. (If it’s too dry, add a spoonful or two of extra water.) Divide the dough into two pieces, making one slightly larger than the other, and shape each into a disc; wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the larger piece of pastry out into a 10-12-inch circle and fit into a pie plate, letting the edges hang over. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, sugar, honey, eggs, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts and vanilla. Pour into the pie shell.
Roll the remaining dough out into a circle slightly bigger than the top of the pie, and cut the pastry into 1/2-inch(ish) strips. Lay a bunch parallel over the top of the pie, then fold back alternating strips and lay another pastry strip in the other direction, so that it goes under and over the first row of strips. Fold the pulled-back ones back down, and fold back the others. Keep going until you have a lattice top. (You can make the strips as close or far together as you like -just make sure there’s room for steam to escape.)
Trim the edge of the pastry (I use scissors) and crimp it with a fork or your fingers. Bake for 1 hour, until golden and set, covering the edge of the crust with a strip of foil if it’s darkening too quickly. Cool – and if possible, refrigerate – before cutting into wedges. Serves 8.