Sweet or savory, show-stopping galettes and free-form tarts make any occasion feel festive.

Sweet or savory, show-stopping galettes and free-form tarts make any occasion feel festive.

I live in the country, and country blocks are big. Mine is 3.14 miles around, the famous number known as Pi-so a block party was organized to celebrate Pi Day, a morning walk around the block, then a potluck breakfast of pie and coffee. Pi and Pie.

I went rogue and brought a savory pie. And not just a pie, but a giant savory galette. I love these generous, free-form pastries-and what's not to love? Galettes are a party on a plate. Festive and flexible. All you need is a big cookie sheet and you're in business. Because you are not limited by the size of a pie pan, you can do whatever you want: make them big or small, fat or thin, sweet and rich or savory and packed with vegetables.

To make a galette, roll out a pastry circle, but don't fuss too much. Ragged edges are part of the fun. Then pile on your filling-fruits, nuts, chocolate for the sweet ones, roasted tomatoes, seared onions or spinach for the savories-leaving a border of pastry around the edge. Now fold that border up, casually, overlapping where it cracks… done! It's a rustic look that says: Homemade! Delicious!

I wasn't sure how many neighbors would show up for that Pi and Pie hike, but I was ready with my big galette, loaded with kale, roasted squash, onions and goat cheese. I carried it over on a cutting board, and was stunned to see about a hundred folks setting off to walk… and under the trees outside the barn, three long tables held a hundred pies!

My fat, golden-crusted galette sat there in its glory, easily twice the size of the dainty apple pies and pecan tarts. And within minutes, it was gone. I had to scramble for crumbs of my creation. (I'm not competitive at potlucks, really. Just saying...)

I decided at once that I needed a tasty galette for every occasion. The dough can come together in minutes. Plus, galettes can be baked ahead, served warm or cool. The sturdy pies are also brilliant travelers. My galettes now go to parties practically every week, and no one tires of them. At home, I build suppers around them. I make a savory galette with caramelized cabbage and mushrooms, the soul food of my Polish childhood, and find the flavors even more appealing when tucked in that slightly peppery crust.

In the holiday season, galettes take over my dessert table. My sweet galettes have seductive layers of apples and pears, wine-soaked figs or marzipan-like almond paste and dark chocolate, in a shortcrust infused with lemon zest. I love the combination of luxury fillings wrapped in that tender pastry, with its slightly ragged edges loosely folded up, casual as a fringed pashmina tossed over a silk dress. I'm divine, those pastries seem to say, but I don't take myself too seriously, I'm just a pie.

And what is a pie, after all, if not comfort wrapped in a crust, a happy moment of celebration, a little bit of

love when you need it.

November/December 2013