I’m writing in the Marciana library and Caroline emails me a link from “The Guardian”.
It is about pies.
Immediately I want a pie.
I am in Italy. I could have risotto with squid ink, fish fried in the crispiest of batter or one of the finest steaks in the world. I could even have a pizza.
But I cannot have a pie. Unless I make it myself.
The bust of Petrarch stares down at me disapprovingly as I close my laptop and make my way to the exit, as if summoned by the Bat Signal…
Meat pie with peas and parsnips
Ingredients (for two hungry people)
400g of stewing steak
Sprig of rosemary/thyme
150ml red wine
150 ml water
Tin of mushy peas
Bottle of Henderson’s relish
Two good-sized cans of tonic water
- I cooked this to Weber’s Oberon. A deeply, deeply silly opera, but then you’re making a pie. In Italy. ‘Silly’ is not something that need trouble us.
- Make two gin and tonics, and distribute them.
- Thinly slice the onions and cook them on a low flame until soft and just a little golden.
- Cut the beef into bite size chunks and give them a good shake in seasoned flour. Then crank up the heat, add them to the pan, and let them sizzle for a bit until they’re nicely browned.
- Finely chop the rosemary and thyme, and throw them into the pan along with the red wine and water.
- A word here on Henderson’s Relish. Caroline introduced me to this miracle ingredient almost twenty years ago. It only seems to be available in Sheffield, and, quite simply, there is no meat dish that it cannot improve. You could be eating a fillet of kobe beef, personally cooked sous vide by the ghost of Paul Bocuse : a shake of the Henderson’s bottle would improve it (and M Bocuse would, probably, understand). However, in the absence of a good shake of the Henderson’s bottle you need something else to add umami (or, to use the technical term, pieiness) of it all. A shake of Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of tomato puree or chuck an anchovy in if you like…you get the idea.
- Stick a lid on the pan and let it cook for as long as you like on the lowest heat possible.
- Make your pastry. I find 200g of flour and 100g of suet, brought together with water, is just right.
- Roll out your pastry. At this point, realise that you have not made a pie for six years and have no idea where the rolling pin is. Do not despair! Like Bear Grylls, like Ray Mears, like Phaedrus in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance your job is now to survive with the tools at hand. I started with the empty can of tonic, but this crumpled too easily. A full can, however, did a perfectly satisfactory job. It is not going to make a pastry that you can see your hand through, but it will be fine for a pie.
- Congratulate yourself on your improvisational skills. At this point, you may treat yourself to another gin and tonic. Do Not use the tonic can that you have just been using to roll the pastry with.
- Line two pie dishes. Yes, you could use one big dish, and it would look very fine, but nothing says I love you like a whole pie of your very own, does it? Glaze the lids with a little milk (use a beaten egg if you’ve got one. I didn’t).
- Put them in the oven for 20 minutes at gas mark 6, and then another 50 at gas mark 4. But it’s a forgiving recipe, so don’t worry too much about it.
- Roast the parsnips. This is an odd concept for Italians. They do not eat parsnips. Many of them do not even know the word – pastinaca – for parsnip. And, on the occasions when I’ve done lessons on British food, the general reaction of students has been : you eat these? So this is not something you are going to be able to find in Conad. Fortunately, we’d brought back a few bags from Edinburgh. Yes. We brought back vegetables from our trip back to the UK. Along with some mushy peas. And some suet. On a plane. I know how this sounds. Anyway, roast the parsnips – if you have a double oven and can crank up the heat, so much the better. If not, they are going to be a little compromised but still nice – put them in the gas mark 4 oven and turn them every ten minutes or so.
- Mushy peas. You could make your own, but only serial killers do that. Take the lid off the can, and warm them through.
- Gently turn the pies out onto a plate. You could, if you wished, make a little “Jenga” tower out of the parsnips and put the peas in a mould, but I managed to fight the temptation.
- Eat, with copious amounts of red wine and a shaking of the Henderson’s bottle.
Next time, we’ll be back to Italian food. But, every so often, a reminder of the old country is very welcome.
And that can of tonic should be just fine for general use in a day or two…