Hey everyone, hope you’re all doing great. I feel rested after a week-long break up in the Lake District. We’ve been there before but this last trip has been the most enjoyable. I read two books (even though I packed five of them in my backpack – and I’m continuously wondering why my back problems have gotten worse during the past few months), explored Derwent Water and its surroundings, cried like a baby with joy when I saw all those adorable little lambs, soaked up the Sun (it was warmer than Malta for a few days), had coffee and afternoon tea and indulged in good pub lunches and ice cream. It was one of the most peaceful weeks in my life. I kept technology usage to a minimum; most of the time we didn’t have any mobile or Wi-Fi signal anyway, and frankly I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I did the basic stuff in the evenings at the cottage where we stayed in and that’s it. Bliss.
I think there is nothing more humble, homely and comforting than a pie. There’s also an honesty about it or so I feel. Perhaps it’s because I tend to make shortcrust with my hands, which get very messy, sometimes a little bit too much! There’s always a sense of accomplishment when it’s done, although that still isn’t reason enough for me to make it more often! Joking apart, if you tend to have warm hands like I do, making it manually isn’t the best thing either. There’s always the option of using a food processor, but that also means more things to clean up. So for me, that’s a no-no. Yes, I’m lazy that way.
I would have liked to share with you loads of foodie and non-foodie photos I took over the past few months. However over the weekend I felt like baking a pie. I have written about my ricotta pie recipe quite a long time ago, and I felt quite torn about posting this recipe once more for fear of repeating myself too much. However I don’t think I made this for months, if not a year. My fondness for it has won hands down though, so I give it to you once more with some changes to the filling ingredients, and of course with a new set of pictures. I should add that the dishes of food that you see throughout this blog are eaten a few moments after those pictures are taken. The sweet things are generally shared, and what you see is what you get.
This weekend was quite full on, with a day trip to Kent and a visit to Chartwell on Saturday. I then decided that Sunday was going to be all about some R&R, with some baking thrown in, just for kicks. Weekdays are usually left for the no-fuss stuff, so it’s nice to be able to spend an afternoon baking things which take a little bit more energy to make. J has been lovely as always and helped to
iron roll out the pastry. Shortcrust gives me a headache sometimes (give me that elastic pizza dough anytime) but it’s worth the faff.
I can be a little OCD on this one but I prefer to use ounces for the pastry! I was taught that the basic rule of thumb for shortcrust is that the amount of flour should be twice as much (by weight) as the amount of fat.
- 8 oz plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon of salt (optional)
- 2 oz cold butter
- 2 oz vegetable shortening
- around 6 teaspoons cold water (the colder the better, especially if you have warm hands like me!)
Mix the flour, baking powder and butter in a bowl, using your thumbs and second and third fingers. Rub the butter into the flour for about 5 to 10 minutes, until it looks like breadcrumbs. The colder everything is the better. Add the water gradually as needed, remembering not to overwork the pastry. Wrap the finished product in cling film and set aside in the fridge until you need it. I like to keep it there for at least an hour, but I would say 30 minutes is enough.
For the ricotta filling:
- 500g ricotta
- 200g frozen peas
- 300g baby spinach leaves, steamed in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of water
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 large egg
To prepare the filling, mix the ricotta, frozen peas, spinach, salt and pepper in a bowl, and taste. When the seasoning is as you like it, add the egg and give the ingredients one last light mix. When you are ready to assemble to pie, preheat the oven to 180ºC.
To assemble the pie, divide the pastry into two and roll it out on a clean and floured surface, a few inches larger in size than your pie dish. With the help of your rolling pin, lift the pastry and place it on the bottom of the dish. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture, then roll out the second piece of pastry and place this on the top. Secure the edges with your fingers. Prong with a knife, brush the top with preferably a beaten egg. Place in a preheated oven for around an hour, till it turns golden. It’s comfort food at it’s best.
I never have time to prepare something like this for a weekday lunch, because it does take a little bit of work (unless I don’t have some ready made dough in the fridge/freezer). But during the weekend, when I have a little more time to potter around in the kitchen I am always up for focaccia. And it’s even better when you have someone else prepare it for you. J recently whipped this up a few weekends ago while I was running some errands one Saturday morning. He made some dough (read more about this here) and topped it up with pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes. A quick and easy lunch idea. Simple but yummy. Enjoy!
What would you call this: shepherd’s pie or cottage pie? I’m calling mine cottage pie, just because I use beef. It seems that both names are interchangeable, most people would add “incorrectly” now, but I won’t – I still have trouble remembering which is which! What I will tell you, for completeness is that when the dish is cooked with lamb or mutton then it’s shepherd’s pie. The amount of meat used is the same whatever you use. I am still making this, even though it’s July! (If you’re in Malta make it in January!) Yes…it’s still gloomy and wet and grey, alas…but cooking always makes me feel better so this is my recipe for instant comfort and calmness. Serves 6 – 8 friends.
For the meat sauce you need:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil and a knob of butter if you like
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 medium onions, diced
- 500g lean minced beef
- 4 rashers back bacon
- 2 teaspoons mixed spice
- ¼ teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 580g polpa di pomodoro (I use two 390g cartons/tins)
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- pinch of nutmeg
- dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- salt and pepper, around 1 teaspoon of each
For the mash:
- 800g – 1kg potatoes, peeled and cubed (I use King Edward; you can also use Maris Piper)
- knob of butter (around 20g)
- some milk to adjust the texture (you can also use some of the water in which the potato was boiled)
- pinch of salt and pepper, to taste
- To prepare the meat sauce, place a heavy based saucepan on the heat and add the oil and butter. Gently sweat the onion and garlic in the pan. When the onion turns translucent add the beef and bacon and the spices. After around 10 minutes add the polpa di pomodoro, bay leaf, sugar, nutmeg, salt and pepper. (I also like to add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.) Let the sauce reduce for a while on the heat. Then set aside.
- To prepare the mash, boil the potatoes and set some of their cooking water aside once they’re done. (Start with cold water.) Drain the rest of the water and place them in a large bowl. Mash using some muscle power and add milk or some of the cooking water (or a mixture of the two). Add butter for creaminess and salt and pepper for seasoning. Taste.
- To assemble the pie simply pour the meat sauce in the dish of your choice. (If you have an electric oven I find that a glass or earthenware dish works better than a ceramic one.) Gently cover this with the mashed potatoes in an even layer, but there’s no need to be too exact! I find that if I start by dotting around a few spoonfuls of mash at a time I will get a good result. When this is done take a fork and slowly scrape the top to create shallow grooves. You will end up with a crunchy topping. Delicious.
Useful links: The Potato Council (I’m not kidding! I’ll have to bookmark that…)