I am rather partial to the odd pie.
A satisfyingly crisp exterior that gives way to something creamy, unctuous and just a little bit naughty underneath is my idea of heaven. Or rather, it is one of my many culinary ideas of heaven.
Pies can seem like a lot of work. I've seen many blanch at the mere mention of pastry. But here is where I come clean. I didn't actually make the pastry for this pie. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone...
I am in the school of thought that labels ready-made pastry as one of the great time-saving devices of the modern age. I know that homemade tastes better and when I have a little more time to spare, I'm pretty nifty at the old shortcrust. But puff pastry? I simply can't be bothered. I'm sorry. I hope you don't think any less of me, but there we are.
I find a couple of packs of the ready-made stuff are handy items to have in the freezer. Puff pastry can be just the thing to transform an uninspiring supper into one with a bit of dash. Got red onions? Got goats cheese? Bingo. You have a rather tasty tart. Got left over roast chicken? Got milk? Bingo. You have a creamy chicken pie.
At the weekend I held a party in my garden for twenty or so friends. I do this every year around my birthday and do a big buffet for all to dig into. I would share the recipes here, but I kept it pretty much the same as last year with my favourite quiche, scrumptious ham, a series of salads and a couple of my favourite puddings.
As someone who is only ever able to cater for twice the number of people I've invited, I had a fair few leftovers to use up. In particular, quite a large hunk of ham. Sandwiches were good, but this tasty pie was the best. I made a cheesy sauce in which to smother the ham and added leeks and courgettes too. You could use any combination of vegetables - mushrooms would have been good, carrots and certainly peas. Whatever takes your fancy really.
My favourite moment with pie-eating is when you plunge the spoon through the crust for the first time to reveal the juicy interior. Heaven indeed...
The recipe here is for two, but can be easily doubled/tripled etc...
Cheesy chicken and leek pie
3 generous handfuls of chopped cooked ham (cut thick slices and then cut into chunky cubes)
1 large leek (or two small...)
1 medium courgette
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
1 1/2 oz butter
1/2 pint milk
4oz mature cheddar cheese
1 heaped teaspoon of dijon mustard
Approx 250g puff pastry (I used half a regular pack)
1 beaten egg
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 180C. Make the sauce first. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and stir thoroughly to combine to make a paste. Cook for a minute or so. Next add a little milk and stir to combine. Cook for a few seconds. Add a little more milk - stir until smooth, cook a little. Repeat, adding the milk a little at a time until you have a smooth sauce. Keep the heat reasonably low and keep stirring all the time to prevent sauce sticking on bottom.
2. Grate the cheese into the sauce, add the mustard. Taste. Add more cheese or mustard if required.
3. Steam the leeks and courgettes until al dente. Add to the sauce, along with the chunks of ham. Warm through and season carefully, remembering that ham is usually quite salty, as is the cheese.
4. Pour the pie filling into a small pie dish or baking dish. Flour a surface and roll out the pastry until the thickness of a pound coin. Brush a little beaten egg around the edge of the pie dish and place the pastry carefully over the top. Trim the overhang. Use any trimmings to decorate the top (I used a little heart cutter). Brush the top with egg so that it browns nicely. You can also use milk, if you prefer.
5. Place in the oven and bake for half an hour, or until the pastry is crispy and golden.