The pleasure of pies | Nigel Slater

It has been a full week since the New Year’s resolutions, so I think it’s safe to talk about pie. The crust, be it pastry, mashed vegetables or toasted breadcrumbs, is there to protect the filling from scorching in the oven and to provide substance. The crust is also there to hold a secret. Dig down through the depths of potato, parsnip or pastry and you will find treasure to savour – pieces of lamb with root vegetables and thyme; minced beef with soft onions and red wine, or perhaps golden smoked haddock with mussels and prawns. I chose to top the one I made this week, a rather nostalgic filling of beef, celery and thyme with frills of tight young kale leaves, with a 50:50 mash of Maris Pipers and Jersusalem artichokes.

Later in the week I capped a smooth purée of roast cauliflower, rosemary and cream with more florets of toasted cauli. The crust this time was on the bottom, a crisp pastry case with pecorino. The topping of golden cauliflower curds allowed it to (just) sneak in under the title of pie. I am not sure whether it matters if your crust is as crisp as puff pastry or as soft as a roasted brassica, what matters is that you have your filling hidden. A delicious surprise as you dig in.

Cauliflower and rosemary tart

I know I go on about it, but preheating a baking sheet is a thoroughly sound idea, allowing the base of your pastry case to cook crisply.

Serves 6

For the pastry:
plain flour 150g
butter 75g
pecorino 35g, grated
egg yolk 1
iced water a little

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For the filling:
cauliflowers 2, large
rosemary 6 sprigs
olive oil 8 tbsp
double cream 250ml

You will also need a 22cm diameter tart tin with a removable base

Make the pastry first. Put the flour and butter in a food processor and reduce to fine crumbs. Add the pecorino and egg yolk and blend briefly, then introduce enough water (about 2-3 tbsp) to bring to a soft rollable dough. With lightly floured hands, pat the dough into a ball then cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6 and place a metal sheet on the middle shelf.

Trim the leaves from the cauliflowers. Remove the florets, slicing the crown from each (leave about a centimetre of stalk on each), and put them in a mixing bowl. Reserve all the trimmings, you will use them in the filling.

Roughly chop the stalks and trimmings and put them in a bowl. Pull the needles from the rosemary stems and divide equally between each bowl. Pour half of the oil into each bowl, season with salt and black pepper and toss gently to coat the florets and trimmings.

Tip the trimmings into a small roasting tin, the florets into another and roast both for about 45 minutes, until tender and lightly toasted. Remove and set aside. Blend the stalks and trimmings in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Remove the pastry from the fridge, roll out and line the tart tin. Fill with foil and baking beans, place on the heated baking sheet and cook in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Lift out the baking beans and foil, then return the tart case to the oven for 5-7 minutes until dry to the touch.

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Lower the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Fill the tart with the creamed cauliflower trimmings, then scatter the roasted florets over the surface, brushing them with any oil form the roasting tins. Bake for a further 10 minutes then serve.

Beef, kale and artichoke pie

Hidden pleasure: beef, kale and artichoke pie.

Hidden pleasure: beef, kale and artichoke pie. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

It is worth dotting some bits of butter on top of the mash, or even furrowing it with a fork, like a ploughed field, if you want to create a crisp outer crust.

Serves 4

For the filling:
olive oil 3 tbsp
beef 500g, diced
onions 3, medium
celery 2 sticks
plain flour 2 heaped tbsp
bay leaves 3
thyme 6 bushy sprigs
beef stock 1 litre, hot
kale 75g, picked from its stalks

For the mash:
floury potatoes 500g
Jerusalem artichokes 450g
butter 25g

Warm the oil in a deep casserole over a moderately high heat, add the cubes of beef and let them brown evenly, turning them over in the pan as necessary. While the meat browns, peel and roughly chop the onions. Transfer the meat to a dish, then add the onions to the pan.

Roughly chop the celery. When the onions are golden, add to the celery and continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes without letting the celery brown. Stir in the flour, and brown lightly, then the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, pour in the hot stock and bring to the boil.

Lower the heat so the liquid simmers gently. Partially cover with a lid and then leave for an hour, stirring occasionally.

For the mash, peel and boil the potatoes in deep, lightly salted water, then do the same with the artichokes. Don’t be tempted to cook them in the same pan.

Boil another pan of water, add the kale leaves, remove after 2 minutes and refresh in a bowl of iced water.

Drain the potatoes and artichokes as each becomes tender, add one to the other then crush with a vegetable masher. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.

When the beef is almost tender and the sauce has thickened nicely, ladle into a baking dish. Spoon the mash on top then bake for 20 minutes until the crust is starting to colour.

Email Nigel at or follow him on Twitter @NigelSlater



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