A GOOD pie is versatile as well as convenient. A pie combines protein, vegetable and starch in one dish, although another vegetable accompaniment is always good.
Following Easter Sunday’s roast ideas, if you had had leftover meat from beef, lamb or pork, you could have made a very good pie. A traditional shepherd’s pie is made with cooked minced lamb, but you can do a variation using beef or pork. For example, leftover roast pork (or ham) can be pulverised in a food processor, then combined with diced fried onion, and chopped apples and seasoned with thyme. Such a pie benefits from celeriac mixed with the potato before mashing, as the top for this shepherd’s pie variation. A cottage pie uses raw beef mince. I do urge you to buy mince from a butcher; ask for lean minced beef, and check that it is from Scotland. A good cottage pie makes mince and tatties much more convenient, and it tastes better, too, with the crispy bits on top of the mash.
And one of the best stand-by pies is regularly requested by my Skye grandsons, Billy and Luke, a chicken and leek pie, which has puff pastry on top. You can vary the vegetables you include in this pie according to what you like, and I have revised my original version to include an amount of chopped parsley. This both tastes good and looks attractive.
For the top
1½ lb/675g potatoes, weighed when peeled, boiled in salted water till tender, then mashed thoroughly, then beaten with a wooden spoon adding
½ pint/285ml milk heated with 2oz/55g butter melted in the hot milk
1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper
a grating of nutmeg – optional
For the meaty base
2lb/900g lean minced beef
2 onions, each skinned, halved and neatly diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium-sized carrots, peeled, topped and tailed, and the carrots diced quite small, thumbnail size
1 fat clove of garlic, skinned and sliced – optional
3 sticks of celery, peeled with a potato peeler, to remove the stringy bits, then finely sliced – optional, you can substitute 2 leeks instead if you prefer
2 tablespoons tomato purée
1 pint/570ml vegetable stock – I use a Kallo cube made up with boiling water
1 teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper
Start by making the base; in a wide pan, ideally a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and brown the mince, a small amount at a time, until the minced beef is very well browned all over. Scoop it into a warm bowl – you may need to add more oil to the pan, reduce the heat slightly under the pan, and fry the diced onions, carrots and sliced celery together, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes. The onions should be completely soft and transparent. Stir in the sliced garlic, the tomato purée, stock, salt and black pepper. Stir, return the mince to the pan and when the liquid simmers, cover the pan with its lid and simmer the contents very gently for 40 minutes. Then take the lid off the pan and continue to simmer gently for a further 10 minutes. This will evaporate any surplus liquid left amongst the mince. Tip the contents of the pan into a pie dish, a wide and quite shallow ovenproof dish, and cool.
Cook, drain, mash and beat the potatoes, then spoon them evenly over the cooled cooked minced beef. With a fork, evenly spread the potatoes over the mince, at the same time forming long forked lines. If you like – but this is not essential – dot the mash with small pieces of butter.
Bake in a fairly hot oven, 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 for 30-35 minutes, then reduce the heat to moderate, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4, and continue to cook for a further 20-25 minutes. The potato should be flecked with crispy bits and the minced beef bubbling gently around the sides. This is good with a steamed green vegetable such as purple sprouting broccoli.
Chicken, leek and parsley pie
¾ lb/375g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten well – for brushing over the pastry
For the pie
2 onions, each skinned, halved and diced neatly
3-5 tablespoons olive oil
2 rashers back bacon, dry cured, and the bacon sliced into strips about 1cm thick
4 leeks, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal in slices approximately 1cm thick
2lb/900g cooked chicken, cut into chunks about 2in/5cm in size
1 just rounded tablespoon flour
1¼ pints/710ml chicken stock – this can be a good stock substitute made up with boiling water
¼ pint/140ml double cream
1 teaspoon salt, about 20 grinds of black pepper, a good grating of nutmeg
3 rounded tablespoons finely chopped parsley, curly or flat leaved
In a wide pan, ideally a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and fry the diced onions and strips of back bacon, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes. Then scoop them into a warmed bowl, leaving as much olive oil behind in the pan as you can. Add the sliced leeks and cook them, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes. Then replace the onions and bacon in the pan, stir well, stir in the flour and let this cook for a minute before gradually adding the stock, stirring continuously, and let the mixture simmer gently for a couple of minutes. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the cream and salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cool. When cold, stir the cooked chicken pieces thoroughly into the leek and bacon sauce, and add the chopped parsley at this point. Tip the contents of the pan into a wide, fairly shallow ovenproof dish. Roll out the puff pastry and cover the dish. Brush it all over with beaten egg, slash it in six even places with the tip of a sharp knife – this allows the steam to escape as the pie bakes – and bake in a hot oven, 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6, for 45 minutes, then reduce the heat to moderate, 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4, and continue to cook the pie for a further 20-25 minutes, keeping an eye on the pastry so that it doesn’t become too brown. If it does, cover the pastry loosely with a sheet of baking parchment. The chicken and vegetables should be bubbling gently beneath the puff pastry lid. This is good, too, with steamed green vegetables, and I love tender-stemmed broccoli best with chicken.
1½-2lb/750-900g leftover lean roast lamb, pulverised in a food processor, take care not to pulverise it too finely
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions, skinned, halved and finely sliced
2 fat cloves of garlic, skinned and finely sliced
2 tablespoons tomato purée
½ teaspoon dried chilli – optional
1 pint/570ml combined stock and red wine
2 tablespoons Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon salt, about 20 grinds of black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a wide pan, ideally a sauté pan and, over moderately high heat fry the finely sliced onions for 7-10 minutes – the amount looks a lot initially, but as they cook the onions wilt down in amount. Scoop the cooked onions into a warm bowl and raise the heat beneath the pan, and fry the pulverised lamb, stirring so that it browns evenly. Replace the onions in amongst the lamb, add the garlic, and stir in the tomato purée, chilli (if you are including it) stock, Worcester sauce, salt and black pepper. Stir until the lamb and onion mixture bubbles gently. Cook, at this gentle simmer, the pan uncovered, for 15 minutes, then tip into a wide, shallow ovenproof dish and cool.
For the potato top
1½ lb/675g peeled potatoes – weighed when peeled. If you prefer, substitute peeled chunks of celeriac for half the weight of the potatoes
Boil both together, or just the potatoes if you are not including celeriac, in salted water until the potatoes are tender when stuck with a fork. Drain well, steam, then mash thoroughly. With a wooden spoon, beat the mashed potatoes adding:
½ pint/285ml hot milk and
2oz/55g butter and
1 teaspoon salt and 15 grinds of black pepper
Beating the potatoes gives a smooth, luxurious texture to the mash. Never be tempted to put them into a food processor, you end up with wallpaper paste texture.
Spoon the mash evenly over the cooled lamb mixture. Use a fork to mark long lines in the mash. If you like – not essential – dot with tiny bits of butter, then bake in a hot oven, 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 for 35 minutes, then reduce the heat and bake for a further 35 minutes at 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4. I love eating tiny petit pois with shepherd’s pie, and, a secret passion of mine, Heinz tomato ketchup.