G us, my 7-year-old, sees an allergist a few times a year. We’re lucky. His asthma is mild, and it’s responded to treatment so well that he’s never had to use an emergency inhaler, let alone the emergency room. But we’ve got a comfy routine at the LeBonheur/University of Tennessee clinic now. He brings something to read, I bring some work, and we enjoy a few quiet minutes together while we wait to be seen by his delightful doctor.
I was running late for our last visit, so forgot to grab Gus’s book when I picked him up from school for his appointment. Instead, he and I paged through the cookbook I was carrying in my bag for inspiration. It was Simply Suppers, by Memphis’s own Jennifer Chandler. Filled with ideas for easy, family-friendly food, the book instantly appealed to Gus. He paused on the chicken pot pie (beautiful, but a little more fuss than I was in the mood for) and gorgeous short ribs served over grits (a mouthwatering make-ahead dish, but my husband doesn’t eat red meat). Then he stopped at the recipe for Cheeseburger Pie.
Honestly, both of us kind of gasped. It just seemed too naughty. Could we really have our pie and eat cheeseburgers, too? When I took a closer look, it seemed that the answer was yes. I could use ground turkey (dark-meat for best flavor), and the recipe contained actual vegetables, in the form of onions and tomatoes. Paired with some green beans or Chandler’s Lemony Swiss Chard with Pine Nuts and Raisins, this was a meal I could serve in good conscience, while pandering to my family’s basest instincts.
Aside from subbing turkey, which cuts the fat content, I also drained a few ingredients to ensure a firm crust and neater serving. This step isn’t absolutely necessary if you’re in a hurry. If you can’t find decent tomatoes but can get your hands on a respectable eggplant or two, slice it thin and salt it before you start, then rinse it and pat it dry before placing it on top. Once you step into eggplant territory, you can even lean into this recipe’s similarity to moussaka, the Greek dish. Skip the Worcestershire and add one-quarter teaspoon cinnamon, dried thyme, and one-half teaspoon oregano to the meat as it cooks, and a generous pinch of nutmeg to the cottage cheese mixture. Heck, go crazy and substitute feta crumbles for the cheddar.
One more note. If piecrust is easy for you, use your own favorite recipe, making the dough a day or so in advance. Otherwise, no one’s going to give it a moment’s thought if you buy it at the store.
After all, a dish like this exists to provide comfort, sustenance, and fun. As I looked around the waiting room at the other sniffly, wheezy kids with their tired-looking parents, I wanted to make Cheeseburger Pie for all of them. It was a cold, cold day, and I knew we all needed a little something that felt naughty but would do our bodies good.
Adapted from Simply Suppers, by Jennifer Chandler (Thomas Nelson, 2010)
• 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1 lb. ground beef or turkey
• 1 small onion, diced
• 2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced (optional)
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
• salt and pepper to taste
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1½ cup small-curd cottage cheese
• 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (about 4-5 oz. by weight)
Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the piecrust in a deep pie pan, fluting the edges, then put it in the fridge till you’re ready to fill it. Set the cottage cheese in a small strainer over a bowl to drain. Place the sliced tomatoes on a plate and sprinkle them lightly with salt.
Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. After a couple of minutes, add the onion, optional garlic and meat. Cook, breaking up meat with a spoon, till it’s browned through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon so excess liquid and fat stay behind. Stir in Worcestershire sauce and flour, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, stir together the drained cottage cheese, eggs, and a generous pinch of salt.
Spoon the meat into the prepared pie crust, then top with the cottage cheese mixture, spreading it evenly. Lift tomato slices from the plate, leaving liquid behind, and arrange on top. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
Bake until set (it will barely move if you jiggle it) and the cheese is melted, about 30 minutes.