Who doesn’t hanker after a delicious pie on a frosty day? Whether returning from a bracing country walk to buttery shortcrust pastry filled with steaming chicken and seasonal vegetables or indulging in a pretty lattice-topped design featuring apple and rhubarb after a traditional Sunday lunch, pies offer a culinary embrace like no other food. They are always sure to impress, have a touch of nostalgia and are also surprisingly easy and enjoyable to make.
Smoked fish pithivier
Salting the fresh fish and adding a thin layer of potatoes between the base and filling helps to prevent the pastry becoming soggy.
1 large waxy potato, peeled
Salt and ground black pepper
125g smoked, undyed haddock, skinned and cut into 2.5cm pieces
225ml whole milk
350g fresh haddock, skinned and cut into 2.5cm pieces
100g raw peeled prawns, cut in half
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp plain flour, plus extra for dusting
3 tbsp dry vermouth or white wine
80g finely chopped watercress, leaves and thin stalks only
500g ready-made puff pastry
Beaten egg, to glaze
1. Parboil the potato in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and cool. then slice thinly and lay on kitchen paper. Place the smoked haddock in a bowl, pour in the milk and leave for 10 minutes before draining. Keep the milk.
2. Place the fresh haddock and prawns in a sieve or colander and season with salt.
3. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan and cook the onion over a medium heat. for 8-10 minutes, until softened.
4. Add the flour and stir for 2-3 minutes, until it forms a smooth paste. Gradually add the milk and vermouth or wine, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir for 5 minutes until the sauce is very thick. Remove from the heat. stir in the watercress and season.
5. On a floured surface, roll out half the pastry to 5mm thick. Using a sharp knife. cut out a 25cm circle. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out a 27cm circle. Place the smaller circle on a lightly greased baking tray and top with the potato slices, leaving a 2.5cm border.
6. Make sure the prawns and both haddocks are dry, patting them with kitchen paper if needed. Combine them with the watercress sauce and spoon over the sliced potato.
7. Brush the border with beaten egg and set the larger circle on top, pressing the edges firmly together. Press the back of a knife 1cm into the pastry edge at regular intervals to give a scalloped effect. Brush the top with more beaten egg. Poke a hole in the centre of the top and use a sharp knife to score curved lines from the centre to the edge, taking care not to cut through the pastry. Chill for 20 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6, then bake for 30-35 minutes until golden.
Chicken and vegetable pie
This really is a meal in one. Chicken, greens, potatoes, sauce – it’s all in there.
For the filling
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
2 celery stalks, sliced 1 onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
200g new potatoes, larger ones halved
150g green beans, topped, tailed and cut into three lengths
5 spring onions, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm lengths
1 courgette, halved lengthways and thickly sliced
100g frozen peas, thawed
2 tbsp plain flour
Grated zest ½ lemon
10g tarragon, chopped
125ml creme fraiche
Salt and black pepper
For the pastry
300g plain flour
½ tsp salt
60g mature Cheddar, crumbled into chunks
6 tbsp chilled water
Beaten egg, to glaze
1. Place the chicken in a snug-fitting pan. Add the carrot. celery, onion and bay leaves. Pour in 1.5 litres of water, bring to the boil, then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave covered for 45 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make the pastry. Pulse the flour, salt. butter and Cheddar in a food processor until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the water and pulse to incorporate. Shape the dough into a disc, then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 1 hour.
3. Transfer the chicken to a large bowl. Strain the stock into a clean pan and bring to the boil. Add the potatoes, simmer for 10 minutes, then add the beans, spring onions and courgettes. Simmer for 2 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl with a slotted spoon, then boil the stock rapidly for about 20 minutes. Shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. and add to the vegetables with the peas.
4. Preheat the oven to 180°C. gas mark 4.
For the sauce, melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 minute. Pour in 300ml of the stock very slowly, stirring. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring, to make a thick sauce.
5. Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest, tarragon and creme fra1’che. Season to taste, then transfer to a large pie dish along with the chicken and vegetables. If you have a pie bird, stand it in the centre of the dish.
6. Roll the pastry out on a floured surface to about 3mm. Brush the border of the dish with egg, then cut a thin strip of pastry and line the border. Brush with egg. Top with the pastry, making a hole for the bird or steam to escape. Trim off the excess pastry and crimp the edges. Brush with egg, then bake for 35-40 minutes.
Mini lamb and egg pies
These are great for parties, buffets or as a packed lunch. It’s really worth going to your local butcher to pick up some top-quality lamb sausages. Personally, I prefer to buy plain ones, then add fresh mint to taste.
12 quail’s eggs
500g good-quality lamb sausages, squeezed from their skins
2 spring onions, chopped
Handful flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Handful mint leaves, chopped (omit if your sausages are already minted)
Pinch of crushed chilli, optional
450g ready-made all butter shortcrust pastry
Plain flour, for dusting
Beaten egg, to glaze Sesame seeds, for scattering
1. Lower the eggs into a small pan of gently simmering water and cook for 2 minutes. Cool in cold running water, then shell.
2. In a large bowl, combine the sausage meat, spring onions, herbs and chilli, if using. Set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Roll the pastry out on a floured surface to about 3mm. Cut out 12 x 9cm circles to fit a 12-hole muffin tin, plus 12 x 7cm circles to cover.
4. Carefully line the holes of the muffin tin with the larger circles. Half fill each with the sausage mix, top with a quail’s egg, then add another layer of the sausage mix. Brush the edges of each pie with beaten egg and top with the smaller pastry discs.
5. Press the edges together with a fork. Make a hole in the top of each pie, brush with more beaten egg and scatter with sesame seeds. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.
6. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature.
This classic Greek spinach pie couldn’t be easier to make. As it benefits from cooling a bit, if not completely, it’s the perfect meal to cook first thing on a weekend morning before heading out. By the time you get back, lunch will be ready.
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing
50g pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
Salt and black pepper
200g feta, crumbled
2 eggs, beaten
20g dill, chopped
Nutmeg for grating
270g filo pastry, thawed if frozen
Caraway seeds, for scattering
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. To prepare the filling, sweat the onion with the butter and the oil in a wide-based pan over a low heat, for 8-10 minutes until soft, but not coloured. Add the pine nuts, garlic and spring onion, cook for 2 minutes, then add the spinach and cook until just wilted. Season well, then tip into a colander and leave to cool.
2. Transfer the cooled spinach to a large bowl and fold through the feta, eggs and dill, then grate in a little nutmeg. Brush an oven-proof dish measuring about 20x30cm with olive oil.
3. Use half the pastry sheets to line the dish, brushing the top of each filo sheet with.oil as you go. Overlap the sheets so the base is covered with at least 2 layers of pastry, leaving a small overhang around the edge of the dish. Transfer the filling to the dish and spread it out evenly, then fold over the excess pastry.
4. Brush the remaining sheets with oil, then use them to top the pie, with the greased side up. Using a sharp knife, score the pastry top into 6 equal pieces, making sure not to cut through to the filling. Scatter lightly with caraway seeds and bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden and crisp. Allow to cool and serve when just warm or at room temperature.
Rhubarb and apple lattice pie
Braiding pastry has a calming, meditative effect on me, with the added benefit that I get to tuck into a delicious pie afterwards. It’s quite time consuming, so if you don’t find it as rewarding as I do, cover the pie in a traditional lattice and it will still look and taste great.
For the pastry
450g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
½ tsp salt
175g unsalted butter, diced and chilled
1 tbsp lemon juice
4-6 tbsp iced water
Beaten egg, to glaze
For the filling
Grated zest and juice of 1 small orange
125g caster sugar
1 piece of stem ginger, chopped
2 Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin wedges
500g Cox’s apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin wedges
300g rhubarb, cut into 2cm lengths
3½ tbsp arrowroot
1. For the pastry, pulse the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of water and pulse until incorporated. If the mixture looks dry, add a little more water and pulse until the dough comes together.
2. Tip the dough out of the mixer and, using your hands, shape into two discs, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap the discs in clingfilm and chill for 1 hour until firm.
3. Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Place all the filling ingredients in a large bowl and stir well, then set aside. Roll the larger pastry disc out onto a lightly floured worktop to make a large circle about 3mm thick. Carefully use it to line a deep pie dish, about 25-27cm. Trim to leave an overhang of about 2.5cm. Transfer to the fridge.
4. On a piece of non-stick parchment, roll out the second pastry disc, about 3mm thick. Use a sharp knife to cut into 5mm wide strips, then taking 3 strips at a time, make braids, until all the strips are used. Add the filling to the dish and top with the braids creating a lattice effect.
5. Trim off any overhanging braid ends, then turn the overhanging pastry lining the pie dish over the ends of the braids to hold them in place. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes, then brush the pastry with beaten egg and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Styling/ Karen Akhtar
Photographs/ Laura Edwards