The pastry challenge initially caused me a few head-scratching moments. All of the American pies I could think of were sweet, including ones which used what we would think of as savoury ingredients (a prime example being pumpkin pie). I thought of empanadas, but didn’t really want to go down the deep frying route, while all other pasty-type items seemed too close to British dishes. What I did come across, however, was the pot pie, which I had only heard of for the first time a few months ago when Nigella cooked one in one of her Nigella Express episodes. I hadn’t paid too much attention since it was a chicken pie, but some reading proved that it only really needed to be one covered in flaky pastry (as opposed to our heavier shortcrust), although the filling often sat in a pastry case as well. The filling was often thick and casserole like, which I thought gave me some ideas to play with.
I settled on a classic American combination of squash, beans and corn – the so-called ‘Three Sisters’ of native American cooking because they formed the staple of early agriculture. I went for chickpeas rather than the more traditional kidney, black or flageolet beans, as I thought the colour would look nice with the squash and corn (and also I like them more!). For the pastry I also had to abandon the favoured flaky recipe as The Scientist isn’t keen on it (he has a strange relationship with different types of pastry which I still can’t completely fathom. I have eventually learned that sausage roll and treacle tart is good; filo and puff is bad. Except for occasionally when it’s not – like the sausage roll. Ho hum – he can calculate pi to more decimals than you’d care to entertain, but can’t quantify his pie preferences). I did, however, go for a more ‘American’ take on a shortcrust-style pastry by using a recipe from Veganomicon which had cornmeal in it (it’s the topping for the seitan and mushroom pot pie). I do like making pastry so that part was fun, and I was also pleased to get a good balance of gravy in the pie, which I have never attempted before (I just fried some onion, then added some flour and cooked for a few mins, then the remaining veggies, some stock and a splash of wine. I also added some dried dill, oregano and thyme, a dab of mustard, and a glug of cider vinegar for extra flavour, which was loosely modelled on the combinations in a Three Sisters stew from Moosewood Low Fat Favourites. I cooked them all for about 20-25 mins before transferring to the pot, laying the pastry over the top and cooking for 35-40 mins).
We were both pleased with how the pie tasted. The cornmeal had a definite presence in the pastry and the filling had a nice thick gravyness to it. I served it with some locally grown purple sprouting broccoli and some carrots roasted in a foil parcel with thyme and a little wine. We rarely have a roast and veg type of meal, so it was quite a novelty!
Update: have a look at Lisa's brilliant take on Cornish pasties here!