I’ve been hearing buzz about Frito Pie for years. As I jog my memory, I vaguely remember one of the Food Network’s many celeb-chef hosted shows featuring the kitschy dish. Since then, I’ve seen it on various menus including Honey’s Sit-n-Eat in Northern Liberties. Variations include a bed of Frito’s topped with ground beef, beans, salsa and cheese, like an inspired version of nachos. Some clever, and perhaps eco-friendly, folks simply utilize a single serving bag of Fritos as receptacle to eat in, pouring the toppings into it for an on-the-go treat. My mental image of the dish has always included an actual crust made with pulverized Fritos. Since I couldn’t find it anywhere else, I decided to make it in my test kitchen.
I bolstered my knowledge of cracker crusts with a little research and found a few savory options, as opposed to ever popular graham cracker base. Melted butter was called for as a binder to help the crumbs bind together so they may be pressed into a pie or tart pan. Pulsing Fritos in a food processor for a few minutes will leave you with oily granules, moist enough to come together under a little pressure. I felt ahead of the game as I placed my tart pan, neatly lined with a finely crushed Frito crust, into the 375 degree oven. Twenty minutes later my kitchen smelled like the Frito-Lay factory, and I was anxious to finish my dish with the meaty filling, so anxious that I disregarded the removable sides on my tart pan. Simply pushing the bottom up will give you the option of exposing the exterior of tart or filled pie; if you’re removing a delicate crust from the oven, though, it will only expose the vulnerability of your base and will leave you with an extra chore or two.
Though a good amount of Frito dust marred my oven, I was able to salvage most of it that was left on the bottom of my tart pan. I laughed off the misfortune the kitchen gods tried to dish out, took what was left of my grinded corn chips, and forged ahead. I may not have succeeded in my attempt to create an actual crust from Fritos, but looking on the bright side allowed me to create a recipe just as great as the one I envisioned.
1 ½ cups ground Fritos
½ large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, diced
1 lb. ground turkey
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced, plus 2 tablespoons sauce
Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tomato, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
In food processor pulse approximately 4 cups of Fritos to create 1 ½ cups of the product in ground form (the consistency will resemble coarse grains of sand). Press 1 cup of ground Fritos into the bottom of an 8”x 8” casserole dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and heat olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat; add garlic and onions, cooking until just soft. Add green pepper and cook for approximately 3 more minutes. Add ground turkey and cook until browned. Remove from heat, drain grease and mix in tomato sauce, chipotle pepper and adobo sauce. Top with remaining ½ cup of ground Fritos and pour into casserole dish. Cook for 20 minutes, topping with cheese with about 5 minutes left in cooking time. Remove from oven and add chopped tomatoes. Serve warm.
It’s both a blessing and a curse that the ground Fritos need no butter to form a solid foundation for this casserole; it’s great that the “Frito flour” has enough moisture to mesh together without adding the extra step or extra ingredient but, at the same time, it’s a reminder to eat the snack food sparingly. It’s a welcome quality in this situation, though, and even better when loaded up with a meaty topping. I prefer ground turkey as I find it is mild in flavor enough to allow the sauce to play a starring role, but ground beef, ground chicken, or even two cans of black beans would be a wonderful substitute. The tomato sauce is accented by the spicy chipotle pepper and adobo sauce, and creates somewhat of a Tex-Mex sloppy Joe sauce, and the green pepper and onion add flavor and substance to the filling. The Frito topping helps sandwich the contents with a slight crunch, and the fresh tomatoes add a cool finish. Of course, my half was blanketed by melted cheese, but you could top yours off with sour cream or nothing at all – I assure you, it’s delicious either way.
Though it looked as if the Frito Bandito had a fiesta in my oven and I had an unexpected mess to clean up, everything turned out okay. My Frito Casserole reminds me that there truly is no kitchen disaster too big to overcome. In fact, it can actually be fun; unpredictable culinary speed bumps for you to think on the fly and improvise, usually resulting in an even better result. Sometimes, the best recipes are accidental.