One of my first jobs after college was working for a cutting-edge tech company. It was 1978 and we were making computers for the airline industry. It was a blast with a Mad Men atmosphere without the bad stuff.
Single but longing for Mr. Right, I admired a sophisticated Kate Spade-esque "older" woman (age 30) who was the wife of one of the rising-star engineers. She was the top secretary to the firm's owner and wore elegant wool tweed sheaths with matching jackets and black patent leather pumps. The rest of us, although appropriate, were embracing the new folkloric style of the decade and somehow our long floral skirts and knit vests paled a little next to our lovely office-mate's allure.
My new friend kindly took me under her wing and before long I saw the off-beat side of her that she kept hidden from office eyes. Her close friends called her Bubbly Melon (Beverly Mullin) because the parties she and her husband gave in their city apartment often began cultured and refined but morphed into rollicking affairs that ended with a lot of water cooler banter the next day. So I was thrilled with a touch of trepidation the morning I found an invitation to her legendary Christmas gathering on my desk.
Two things stand out about that party. One, my friend and her husband were called to a downstairs neighbor's apartment for quick holiday toast. Once they were gone, another guest suggested that we all pile into their massive water bed, exposing our upper arms and chests to give the illusion of being naked. I was shocked but did my best to roll up the sleeves of my sparkly sweater and pull the neck down low. One guest took pictures while we grinned and saluted with champagne glasses held high, about 9 in the bed. Later, when the pictures were developed, they were sent to our hosts anonymously for a good laugh. It was my introduction to café society.
The second thing that stands out from that party was the dish that Bubbly served, a savory delicacy she called Italian Pie. As I was leaving that night, she squished a small index card into my palm tied with a festive ribbon and a candy cane. She told me I would make the pie for the rest of my life and she had typed it up especially for me. At the bottom in red, she wrote the word "Voilá!" and even though it wasn't a French pie, I thought she was infinitely cool.
I still have the recipe card and have made the pie hundreds of times. I've added some of my own flourishes and I think it is perfection, whether for company or comfort. The magic is that it appears to be a dish that takes hours but is quite simple. I gave the recipe to a co-worker a few years ago who was looking for a kid-friendly meal idea after a harried day. That night, her husband called to thank me! It was hit.
I have lost track of Bubbly Melon forever. I do, however silently thank her whenever I have to bring something scrumptious to a potluck supper or need an easy dish to make on a cold Sunday night at home.
Pie crust bottom only (you can use your favorite pie crust recipe, a store-bought one, or in a pinch, Crescent Rolls pieced together in the pie plate)
1.5 pounds ground beef
1.5 small cans tomato paste
2 cloves garlic minced
1 green or red pepper diced
1 large onion diced
Italian seasoning to taste
Pinch of dried hot pepper flakes
Pinch of salt
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Freshly washed and dried spinach
Saute garlic in fry pan with olive oil. Add onions and peppers and cook until softened.
Add ground beef and break up with a spatula.
Add tomato paste (the unused 2nd can will freeze well in the can with a plastic wrap covering)
Add Italian seasoning and hot pepper flakes
When beef is cooked thoroughly, drain off oil.
Pour beef into pie shell.
Cover with cheese.
Poke several holes.
Lightly grate Parmesan cheese on top
Sprinkle just a pinch of salt on top and a little more Italian season for color.
Bake 30 minutes in 350 degree oven or until cheese melts and crust browns.
Let sit for five minutes and slice.
Plate on top of spinach drizzled with olive oil