I swear, anything under a hot, crunchy, buttery crust is going to sound like an edible prayer.
But despite it’s holiness, a pie just feels like it’s going to be a lot of effort, and this is usually what stops me from making them. Can I actually be bothered? Then I remind myself that all I’m doing with this particular recipe, is stirring a few things in a pan and then putting a premade pastry on top of it and baking it.
And when I see it like that, wild horses couldn’t stop me from making it.
I think Instagram ruined pie making for the world though, because all we see are those perfectly shaped, intricately designed pastries that make you want to give up before you try. The visual impact of the pie crust is often of more importance, to some people, than what lies beneath. But like Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer taught us in the movie, what lies beneath is equally as important and as a result, all I need from a pie top is a slit in the middle and I’m fine.
There’s no shame in using a pre made puff pastry for this pie. I offer some homemade remedies below, but it’s a cruel dichotomy that the times when we really need (not want, need) pie are the times when we have absolutely no strength for superfluous methods. That’s why a puff pastry pie – which is almost always better when it’s bought pre-made than made at home – is a perfectly reasonable excuse to not actually make your own pastry at home.
With puff pastry, you won’t get the ‘PIE PIE’ experience (and by that I mean where the pastry goes under the filling too) which I know a lot of people desire, but puff pastry for me is always the better option for the sheer texture of it all. While it cooks, the bottom of the puff pastry steams and softens, which means it has a wonderful velvetiness which partners so perfectly against the crunchy, puffed up top which bakes in the oven.
Serving wise, you also won’t get to slice the pie like a ‘PIE PIE,’ but what you’ll be doing instead (and preferably so) is slicing it and spooning up as much of it as you can… but that’s just an invitation to greedily spoon out any more filling that slithered out from under the crust in the pan. That’s the best part about puff pastry.
But let’s talk about making your own puff pastry.
An elusive concept, because puff pasty takes a lot of time and to be honest, when I need a pie, I need it as quickly as possible. However, if you’re in the mood to make your own pastry, I want to guide you in the direction of my favourite baker Trevennon Dakota, who has kindly shared with us his recipe for a Flakey Pie Crust which includes a really handy and pictured step-by-step guide. Admittedly this is not a puff pastry, but a hybrid of puff and shortcrust, and would still work perfectly fine with this recipe (just omit the sugar from his ingredient list).
While this recipe is a vegetarian affair, it could also be chickenised. I would get some skin-on, bone in chicken thighs, oil/salt/pepper them and roast in a hot oven for 40 – 45 minutes until cooked through. Allow them to cool completely and then strip the meat from the bones into little chunks and add them to pan to reheat before adding the stock in the method.
I have also done a version of this pie where instead of the cream, I have added a tablespoon or so of goats cheese which brings a fabulous salty creaminess to the party, albeit a slightly richer taste. Not necessary because there’s also some punchy mustard in the recipe, and I know goats cheese divides many an eater, but if I have it in, I throw it in.
Or, as an alternative and still keep it vegetarian, you could add some mushrooms into the mix, frying them hard in the butter (before the leeks) until they get all brown and crisp. Take them out of the pan and then add the leeks and continue the recipe, adding the mushrooms back to the pan before the stock.
This pie is also easy to veganise. Just use a vegan puff pastry, swap the butter for olive oil, omit the cream (albeit the colour will be slightly different) and for the egg wash, you could just use a little dairy-free milk to brush over the pastry. I know that is easier said than done, when I say to use a vegan puff pastry, because it’s not always easily accessible in the shops, but you could always just make your own vegan pastry, for which the BBC has a great recipe here. Admittedly again, this is not a puff pastry, but it will work just as well here.
Serves 4 – 6 (but sometimes 2… and also sometimes just 1…)
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or dried thyme if you’re struggling)
1 tablespoon plain flour
700ml vegetable stock
1 teaspoon hot English mustard
A grating of fresh nutmeg
1 x can green lentils – drained and rinsed
100g kale – leaves removed from the stalks
1 tablespoon double cream
1 x 375g packet of premade puff pastry
- Slice the leek in half and then chop it into thin half moons. Pop them into a colander and run them under some cold water, rustling them about. Leeks can be deceptively filthy.
- In a skillet or shallow, heavy-bottomed pan (roughly 20 – 23cm wide) with high sides that can ideally go from hob to oven, melt the butter until bubbling.
- Drop the leeks into the pan, scatter in a little salt and pepper and cook until the leeks begin to soften.
- Grate in the garlic cloves using a fine grater, and then add the thyme, stirring into the leeks. Cook this for another 5 minutes or so.
- Spoon in the flour, and stir through the pan cooking for a few minutes so that we cook out the flour taste. The leeks will start to stick together, almost paste like, but don’t worry.
- Slowly pour in the vegetable stock, just splash by splash, stirring as you go and use your spoon to break up the leeks and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. It will all look a bit dishwater grey at this point, but again, don’t worry.
- Add the mustard to the pan, along with a grating of the fresh nutmeg, and stir through.
- Take the pan off the heat and add the drained and rinsed lentils to the pan along with the kale, scatter in a little salt, and stir both through the thickened stock and leeks.
- Pour in the cream and stir through, watching your pan go from a greeny, grey to a luscious cream. Taste for seasoning as you may want to add a little more salt or pepper, and for me, it’s usually a dab more mustard.
- Allow the pan to sit, off the heat, to cool down for a bit. The pan’s mix will also thicken in this time, but this is not a bad thing, as you do not want your pie filling to be too liquid.
- While the pie cools, preheat the oven to 200C and carefully take the puff pastry out of it’s packaging. We’ll need to roll it out so that it can cover the top of the pie filling, so I find the easiest way to do this (as my rolling pin isn’t wide enough to cover the width of the pastry) is to fold it in half and only a lightly floured surface, gently roll until it is wide and long enough to sit on top of my skillet with a bit of an overhang.
- Once the pie filling has cooled a little, place the pastry on top of the skillet and let some of the pastry hang over the sides a little. Using a scissors, trim some of the edges off (but don’t throw them, just click here after you’ve made the pie and don’t think twice)
- Fold the edges neatly back into the skillet pie. There’s nothing stopping you from leaving them hang, they will cook absolutely fine, but I like to keep my pastry in the pan, so using your fingers, just fold the overhang back into the skillet and carefully press them against the inside edges of the pan to seal.
- Beat the egg in a small cup or jug and then brush it onto the top of the pastry. You can use a pastry brush but I have absolutely just used my hands before, like an animal, but sometimes times are hard.
- Cut a slit in the centre of the pastry with a knife (this will allow steam to come out) and sprinkle the top of the pastry with a little salt.
- Put the skillet in the oven and bake for roughly 45 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and visibly crunchy.
- Remove the skillet from the oven, allow to cool just a bit before slicing, spooning and devouring.
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