After lining up to buy piping hot pies from Sebastian's Gum Tree Pies at the Farmer's Market this morning, Peter, my dear best friend, Christine, and I sat to catch up and chat a while. As we munched, we agreed that Sebastian's pastry and filings were quite superb, and noted that Sebastian had won eleven awards at the Great Aussie Meat Pie Competition last week.
Pie making is quite an art form and the pastry and fillings have to be just right. According to the rules in my 1941 edition of The Coronation Cookery Book (Country Women's Association of NSW), "In making pastry there are three essential conditions for success: 1st it should be made in a cool place, so that it can get as much cool air into it as possible. The reason [for] this is that cold air expands when heated and rises the pastry with it. 2nd: It should be handled quickly and lightly so that the air may not be expelled. 3rd: It should be cooked in a quick oven, so that the starch globules in the flour will burst at once and absorb the fat which is used in making it."
With busy lifestyles, most of us don't get the opportunity to make pastry from scratch and there are some excellent ready made varieties of puff and shortcrust pastry available, so pie making is much easier. I'd like to share with you some of my quick and simple pie recipes. The first is one that makes the most of fresh vegetables — a simple but satisfying cheese and vegetable pie. Take sufficient puff pastry to line your pie dish, add an assortment of delicious and colourful fresh vegetables and top with a blend of eggs, cream, freshly shredded cheese and shallots. Try using phyllo pastry for a delicious variation. The second is a delicious chicken and vegetable pie that will take pride of place on your dinner table — it’s a bit of a show-stopper and one you’ll want to cook again and again! It has loads of flavour with just a hint of spiciness.
CHEESE & VEGETABLE OPEN PIE
1 cup low fat shredded cheese
100g broccoli, cut into small florets
150g baby zucchini, sliced
100g carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
150g button mushrooms, sliced
100g sweet red capsicum, cut into 2cm strips
1 onion, chopped
3 eggs, whisked
1/2-3/4 cup cream
freshly ground pepper
1 spring onion, finely sliced
Lightly grease a pie or flan dish with butter or margarine. Line the base and sides generously with pastry. Sprinkle a little of the shredded cheese into the base of the pie dish. Trim off any left over pastry and cut into thin strips. Set aside.
Par-cook the vegetables (except the capsicum and onion) for 3 minutes on high in a microwave, or by blanching in a small amount of boiling water. Saute the onion in a little butter, drain well. Arrange all of the prepared vegetables onto the pastry base in layers of contrasting colours. Whisk the cream with the eggs and pour over the vegetables. Season with salt and freshly groun pepper, and top with more shredded cheese. Finish with strips of leftover pastry arranged in lattice-form. Sprinkle with any remaining cheese and sliced spring onions. Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve immediately. This will provide four generous serves.
VAGUELY CURRIED CHICKEN PIE
1 sheet puff pastry
1 sheet shortcrust pastry (or make your own with my recipe below)
1 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a little salt
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2-3 tablespoons water
For the filling:
30g butter or margarine
1 small Spanish onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
550g skinless chicken fillets (thigh or breast)
1 stick celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly diced
a good pinch of an aromatic curry powder
a good pinch black mustard seeds
1 cup chicken stock
salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper (the more the better!)
1 tablespoon cornflour mixed with a little water
1 egg, lightly whisked
To make the pastry, combine flour, margarine and baking powder in a food processor. Process till the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add water, a little at a time. Check, if it feels too dry add just a little more. Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured board and knead gently till it forms a rough ball. Roll out to required shape and size, but take care not to over-handle. Press the shortcrust pastry into a lightly greased pie dish or tin.
For the filling, melt the butter in a saucepan, add onion and garlic and saute until soft. Add the curry powder and mustard seeds and stir until fragrances are released. Add the chicken, celery and carrot and cook, stirring gently, until the chicken is golden brown. Stir in the stock and bring to simmering point, then add the cornflour and water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently just until the gravy thickens. Season to taste with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Remove from stove and allow to cool slightly, then spoon mixture onto the prepared pie base.
Place the sheet of puff pastry over the top of the pie and trim it to fit. Using a fork or pastry crimper, press the edges of the two pastries together. Cut some small slits into the lid of the pie to allow steam to escape. Then brush top with beaten egg. Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C for 45 minutes or until puffed up nicely and golden brown. Serve immediately with creamed or baked potatoes, or perhaps some steamed rice. Serves 4-6.
I'm Liz, a.k.a Bizzy Lizzy,
the writer, cook and traveller behind
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.