Pie

This photo of savory pie is from Georgeanne Brennan's book, "La Vie Rustic: Cooking and Living in the French Style."

La Vie Rustic photo

I’m a big fan of festive, holiday foods like crab and smoked salmon, special cheeses and charcuterie, of Beef Wellington, prime rib and roast turkey, of cakes, cookies, and all kinds of elaborate sweets, but I also look forward to the post-holiday season, when my food focus shifts to simple things.

Savory pies are a particular favorite of mine this time of year. These are essentially one-dish meals that combine meat and vegetables and have a pastry crust or other topping. They may take a bit of time to make. But once they are done and in the oven, there’s no last-minute stirring, frying or finishing needed before serving. The fillings can be made ahead for the most part, and the crusts added just before baking. When served with a green salad, savory pies make an ideal meal.

Savory Chard and Raisin Pie

A specialty of the area around Nice and its back country is Swiss chard pie , which I first learned to make it while living in Saorge, a mountain village north of Nice and not far from the Italian border. The combination of chard, sausage, and pine nuts with raisins makes for a subtle marriage of sweet and savory.

5 large or 10 medium chard leaves

2 cups water

1 piece bacon, chopped

1 pound bulk pork sausage or links with skin removed

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons pine nuts

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon raisins soaked in 1 cup water

Pastry for 2, 8-9 inch pie crusts, homemade or purchased

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the ribs from the chard and reserve for another use, such as steamed, then dressed with vinaigrette. Roll the chard leaves and chiffonade them. Place 2 cups of water in a soup pot or large casserole along with the chard leaves and the bacon and cover. Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the chard is tender to the bite, and the volume has reduced considerably, about 15 minutes. Remove and drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out any remaining liquid and chop the chard. Squeeze again and set aside.

In a frying pan over medium high heat, crumble in the sausage, breaking it up into smallish pieces. Sauté, turning often, until opaque, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain.

In the same pan, over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to join the sausage.

In a large bowl, combine the chard, sausage, onions, garlic, pine nuts, 1 egg, cheese, and salt and pepper. Drain the raisins and add them. Mix well. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if desired.

Roll out the pastry to a 10-inch round. Drape it over a 9-inch pie pan, then gently tuck the pastry into the bottom and sides. Do not trim the overhang. Line the pan with foil or parchment paper and add pastry weights or dried beans to prevent the shell from puffing up.

Bake the shell for 7 to 8 minutes, until the edges begin to turn pale bisque, then remove the foil and weights or beans. With a fork, prick the bottom of the shell and bake until the bottom is lightly bisque, another 3 to 4 minutes. If it puffs, prick the puff with a fork. Set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Gently fill the pastry shell with the chard mixture, spreading the mixture evenly.

Roll out the second pastry to 9 inches. Run a bead of water along the edge of the lower shell, then gently lay the second pastry over the top, pressing the edges into rim of the lower sealing it. Don’t worry if some of the overhanging lower pieces break off. These will eventually be trimmed. Once the top is secure, cut a ½-inch diameter circle in the middle to allow steam to escape and trim the pressed edges of the pastry even with the tart pan.

With a pastry brush, brush the top pastry with the egg yolk and water mixture to make a glaze.

Place the pie pan on a baking sheet and into the oven. Bake until the crust is golden and the sides begin to pull away slightly from the edge of the pan, about 25 minutes.

Remove and let stand 30 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6

Mediterranean Shepherd’s Pie

This is a Mediterranean take on a classic British dish, cooked and seasoned meat topped with mashed potatoes. I make it with ground lamb, herbes de Provence, and finish it with mashed celery root and potatoes. This is a cozy, convivial dish for a cold night.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 pounds ground lamb or substitute beef

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh sage

1 cup beef broth

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

For the topping

4 medium to large potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 large celery root, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes

1/2 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to season

1 egg

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, combine the butter and the olive oil. When the butter foams, add the lamb and brown it lightly. Add the bay leaves, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and a half teaspoon of the pepper and stir several times. Remove the meat and bay. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté several minutes, then sprinkle with the flour, thyme, rosemary and sage, and continue to cook, stirring constantly. The flour will start to brown. Let it become very brown, as this will give the stew its rich, dark color, about 6 to 8 minutes. While stirring and scraping the pan bottom, add the broth a little at time, scraping up all the bits. Return the meat to the pan. Simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender and gravy has formed, about 20 minutes. Stir in the peas.

While the meat and vegetables are cooking, prepare the topping.

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Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and the celery root and cook until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. Return the hot vegetables to the hot pan along with the milk, and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Adjust for salt and pepper and stir in the egg. Whip the potatoes with a wire whisk or an electric beater, or mash them with a potato masher. Taste again for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if desired.

Spoon the stew mixture into a casserole and top with the potato mixture, spreading evenly. Dot with the remaining butter and bake until the top is lightly browned and the stew is bubbling, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Serves 6.

Turkey Pot Pie

You can readily find frozen versions of pot pies in any supermarket, but it’s easy to make your own. A pot pie is essentially a thick stew, either encased or topped with a crust. If you have leftover turkey or chicken, this is a good way to incorporate it into a full meal. The filling and crust can be prepared up to day ahead, and then assembled just before baking.

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into ½ inch rounds

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon chile flakes (optional)

2 tablespoons flour

2 to 2 1/2 cups homemade turkey broth or substitute homemade or purchased chicken broth

3 cups cooked turkey, cut into 1-inch pieces, or substitute cooked chicken

1 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, any kind

Pastry for 1 9–inch pie, homemade or purchased

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large frying pan, over medium heat, melt the butter. When it foams, add the onion, celery, carrot and celery seed and sauté, stirring often, until the onion and celery are soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, optional chile flakes and stir, then sprinkle over all with flour, stirring until a paste has formed. Slowly pour in the broth, stirring or whisking until the flour is well blended, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the carrots are easily pierced with the tines of a fork, about 15 minutes.

Remove the cover and increase the heat to medium. Add the turkey, peas, and mushrooms and cook until thickened, increasing the heat if necessary. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if desired.

At this point, the filling may be cooled and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat before using.

Spoon the mixture into a 9-inch, 1 ½ inch deep glass or metal pie pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry dough to 10 inches in diameter. Drape over the filled pie pan, folding the edges snugly. Trim if needed. Cut two or three slashes in the pastry to allow steam to escape.

Place in the oven and bake until the pie crust is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve hot, scooping out portions with a serving spoon.

Serves 4.

Georgeanne Brennan is an award-winning cookbook author, journalist, educator and entrepreneur who lives in Northern California. Her online store, La Vie Rustic – Sustainable Living in the French Style, www.lavierustic.com, reflects her long-time love affair with France and especially Provence,

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