Situated about seven miles due West of the famed Gateway Arch, there is a neighborhood in St. Louis referred to as “The Hill.” Its streets are lined with Italian flags, small mom and pop trattorias, and fantastic Italian bakeries – even the fire hydrants are painted red, white, and green. Deemed St. Louis’ own Little Italy, The Hill is a neighborhood of which the locals are very proud and also very happy to frequent when it comes to food and drink. About six years ago, my husband and I spent a year living in St. Louis. Even though we were on a decidedly dine-in-only type of budget, we seemed to prefer throwing all caution and good sense out the window, opting instead to gallivant around the city, sampling any and all of the delicious bites that “The Lou” had to offer. The Hill played host to some of our favorite food destinations and I think for me, this had a lot to do with the novelty of living in a city that had a “Little Italy.” I got a kick out of that, and didn’t even realize until I had one that it was, apparently, something I’d always wanted.
Of all the Italian eateries, shops, bars, bakeries and businesses with which the neighborhood is decorated, I’m not sure if any is as revered as Charlie Gitto’s. At least that was the impression I got during my residency in St. Louis. “Have you eaten at Charlie Gitto’s yet? Have you tried the toasted ravs?” Those two questions were always joined at the hip, the second tagging along with the first, the first almost always popping up in conversations with locals when they discovered that we were from out of town.
Toasted ravioli, more widely known as fried ravioli, is one of a few prized possessions in the St. Louis food world, as it is purported that they were invented there, decades ago. Due to what is now probably considered a very happy accident, a chef at the restaurant (formerly named Angelo’s) accidentally dropped some ravioli into a pot of bubbling hot oil, rather than into the water for which it was initially and classically destined. Et voila! Toasted raviolis were born and it is nearly impossible to dine out in St. Louis without being made aware of the city’s great pride in those little fried squares of cheesy goodness. If you’re ever in St. Louis looking for a bite to eat, I highly recommend that you tuck into a big plate of toasted raviolis and marinara, and contemplate all that is right with the world. It’s the kind of dish that just makes you do that sort of thing.
Alright fine, you might be thinking to yourself right about now, “What do toasted raviolis have to do with pie? This post is about pie, right?”
Well, to answer your questions, I don’t think toasted raviolis have anything to do with pie; at least 99.9% of the time they don’t. But today, when it comes to this pie – my Peaches and Cream Pie with Salty and Sweet Butter Cracker Crust – they have more to do with things than meets the eye. In fact, whenever I make it I have ravioli on the brain the whole time. You see, the pie in question here was also born from the occurrence of a happy accident of my own. I was trying to make a cream cheese pie one afternoon several months ago, and as is more often the case than I’d care to admit, I was paying more attention to all of the things going on around me, neglecting to give my task at hand (my pie at hand) the full attention it deserved. The laundry, the kids, the news playing on the TV in the next room, texts from my husband, etc. Distracted cooking is, it would seem, a way of life for me today and everyday.
As such, it may come as no great shock that I overlooked a detail here and there when constructing my pie. I was hurriedly throwing together the crust – melting butter, grabbing cinnamon to accompany the graham crackers, etc. In all of my rushing, I failed to realize that I’d accidentally grabbed the Ritz crackers instead of the graham crackers and didn’t notice it until I’d ripped open the package and started mindlessly dumping them into the food processor. More accurately, I noticed that they were butter crackers before it registered that I wanted them to be graham crackers.
Or did I?
I’d sampled fruit desserts made with salty pretzel crusts and crunchy potato chip toppings before (because I’m from the South and this is very much a thing), so who am I to scoff at the lowly cracker? In fact, I vaguely remembered an apple pie recipe that a friend of mine told me about years ago that involved a Ritz cracker crust of some sort. It could’ve been worse, I supposed. I could have thrown the roasted garlic and herb bagel chips in there and then it would have just been a total wash. I love to play around with flavors and all, but I have my limits. Gross is gross. But butter crackers? This seemed promising. So, I pulsed the crackers up with the melted butter and sweetened the whole lot of them up with a tablespoon of sugar. After pressing the mixture into my pie tin, I stole a quick taste of some of the buttery crumbs that were still clinging to the food processor and I knew I was onto something there. I sliced up a fresh peach and laid it around the pre-baked crust in a spiral fashion, so as to ensure every slice would get some, and then I piled the sweet vanilla bean and cream cheese filling over top. Forty five minutes later, the pie emerged confidently from the oven, lightly browned, speckled with tiny black vanilla bean seeds, and looking like it was meant to be crowned with a buttery cracker crust all along.
Not long after the pie’s exodus from the oven, Elle sauntered into the kitchen wearing her favorite purple mittens. She sniffed the air in a fashion so animated and dramatic that it caused her to rise up onto her tippy toes and almost fall forward. Extreme excitement over baked goods is something she comes by honestly, I’ll admit. “What are the mittens for, Elle? It’s not even cold outside,” I asked, knowing full well what her response would be.
“The three little kittens lost their mittens, Mommy,” She said very seriously. “They didn’t get any pie when they did that.”
“Well then, by all means …” Stifling a laugh, I gave her a small sliver of the pie and sliced one for myself. “Cheers!” we said in unison as we clinked our forks in solidarity.
Here’s to happy accidents and really good pie.
for the crust:
1.5 cups butter cracker crumbs (about 1.5 sleeves of crackers)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
for the filling:
12 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
The seeds of one vanilla bean (or two teaspoons of pure vanilla extract)
2 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced into thin wedges
for the butter cracker crust:
In a medium bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, melted butter and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Stir to ensure everything is evenly mixed. Press the mixture into a 9″ or 10″ pie pan and bake in a 350-degree (F) preheated oven for 8 minutes. Cool to room temp before filling. Keep the oven on.
for the pie filling:
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer and a separate bowl), whip the cream cheese until it is smooth and creamy. Add the eggs, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds. Mix the ingredients together on med-high speed until everything is smooth and well-combined.
Arrange the peach slices across the pre-baked pie crust, creating a layer of peaches. There is no rule to this, you can do as many peaches as you like here, just keep it to one layer or your filling won’t have enough room. Pour the cream cheese filling over the peaches in the pie pan, smoothing out the top as you go. The recipe makes enough filling for a peach-less pie, so the more peaches you add, the less room for filling. Just fill the pie until the cream cheese mixture is level with the crust.
Bake the pie in the 350-degree preheated oven for about 40 – 45 minutes, or until the pie is set and very lightly and slightly golden brown around its edges. Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely before setting it in the fridge to chill before serving. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.