Thursday 8 November 2012

Perfect Pasties

As I was making the kids sandwiches, yet again, for their school lunch-boxes, I thought how nice it would be to be able to give them something different for a change. A home-made Cornish pasty sprang to mind.  What a great way of using up vegetables and nourishing the kids at the same time. 

Cornish pasties date back to the 13th Century, during the reign of Henry III. They were eaten by poorer working families who could only afford cheap ingredients such as potatoes, swede and onion. Meat was added later. Miners and farm workers took this portable and easy to eat convenience food with them to work because it was so well suited to the purpose. Its size and shape made it easy to carry, its pastry case insulated the contents and was durable enough to survive, while its wholesome ingredients provided enough sustenance to see the workers through their long and arduous working days. The crust (crimped edge) was used as a handle which was then discarded due to the high levels of arsenic in many of the tin mines.  Luckily, now a days we can eat all the pastry but the classic mix of beef, swede, onion and potato is set in stone and it would be considered sacrilege to modify these ingredients in any way.  

But your pasty does not have to be Cornish.  In fact it could come from almost anywhere and contain whatever you like or have to hand.  It is a fabulous way of using up left over root vegetables which always are in abundance throughout the winter months. Carrots, celeriac, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes and squashes all work fantastically well.  It could be meat free but it certainly makes a little meat go a long way. Just remember whatever you put in your pasty, it must be cut pretty small and must all cook in the same time. Because the ingredients go in raw, unlike most pies the filling must cook before the pastry burns.  But fear not. As long as the pieces in your filling are never any larger than about 1cm, it always somehow seems to work. 

My next top tip for busy cooks, is ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pasty.  The supermarkets have really got their acts together on the pastry front and you can find a good selection of all-butter pastries in the chilled or freezer section.  Check the ingredients and make sure that they contain little more than butter and flour and you can guarantee that they will be good.  

Last of all I recommend that you make up a large batch because they disappear really fast. They freeze brilliantly - I wasn't expecting you to get up a 5.00am and make them from scratch each morning for the kids lunch-box. I freeze them, uncooked and simply put them in the oven first thing in the morning and they are ready to go about 45 minutes later. Then straight in the lunch-box and they might even be still be warm by lunch time.  What better way to sustain your little miners.

Cornish Pasties

400g/14oz good-quality beef skirt or rump steak (very lean, no fat or gristle.)
200g/7oz waxy potatoes such as Charlotte (I didn't even peel mine.)

200g/7oz swede 
175g/6oz onions
salt and freshly ground black pepper
knob of butter
Ready rolled all-butter shortcrust pasty

1 egg, lightly whisked
Chop the potatoes into cubes, no bigger than 1 cms.  Peel the sweed and do the same.  Trim any fat or gristle from the meat and cut into small cubes, about 1cm.  Chop the onion fairly finely and mix together with the other ingredients and plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lightly grease a baking tray with butter or line with baking or silicone paper. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. (If baking from frozen then 160C.) Cut your pasty in to discs roughly 15cms wide.  I use a small bowl to cut round. Spoon some mixture into the middle of each disk and top with a knob of butter. Then bring the pastry around and crimp together.  I find the ready rolled pastry stick fine. Do not get the pastry wet or that will stop is sealing. A genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive ‘D’ shape and is crimped on one side, never on top but I like mine the other way.  It is up to you. Just make sure it is well sealed and has plenty of filling. Put the pasties onto the baking tray and brush the top of each pasty with the egg. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 30 minutes or until the pasties are golden-brown. (If baking from frozen allow up to 45 minutes.) 

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