Pie Power

For the best of cold-weather comfort food, there's nothing more satisfying than a savory pie — and not just the dessert kind. The appetizing aromas of a hot pie stuffed with a mixture of meats or fish and tender vegetables — all bound together with fluffy mashed potatoes or golden-crusted pastry — are irresistible.

A one-dish meal, savory pies are a delicious catch-all for leftovers of beef, chicken or fish, but you can also substitute lamb, turkey or even smoked fish. As for vegetables, check the fridge and use what you have at hand. Even slightly wilted items, like celery, can add distinctive flavor.

Convenience items — such as prepared puff pastry, mashed potatoes or packaged breadcrumbs — make the baking easier. Stir in fresh veggies and seasonings — and a squeeze of lemon juice to refresh — and you have a brand-new supper dish. Even self-proclaimed foodies won't guess that the main ingredient was left over from the night before.

The traditional Shepherd's Pie, which hails from England, is made with leftover shredded lamb and crowned with seasoned mashed potatoes. My mother often enriched the potatoes with beaten eggs before baking.

In the Midwest, beef is king, so in Kansas or Michigan, the filling may begin with leftover pot roast and gravy, or perhaps chopped-up hamburgers. Whatever the meat, the gravy and vegetables should be well-seasoned to infuse good taste.

Cornish Pasties are unusual in that all the filling ingredients are raw and baked to irresistible, homespun flavors in a crisp pastry crust. For centuries, the Cornish have been filling their famous pasties with whatever raw ingredients were available, although, according to superstition, fish is never used.

But the time-honored filling is beef-and-potato, with onion and turnips mixed in. Carried in lunchboxes, the meal provided hearty and practical food for the tin miners. I've simplified the recipe to make two oversized pasties using a package of 9-inch, ready-to-bake rolled pareve pie crusts that you can find in the refrigerated section of the market.

To save time and energy, double the recipes to make two pies at a time. One may be refrigerated until ready to pop into the oven; the other may be frozen for another meal. Thaw by refrigerating overnight.

My Mother's Shepherd's Pie

Growing up in Shetland, this was a weekly supper dish, often expanded with baked beans when we had unexpected visitors. Ground beef or chicken may be substituted for lamb.

2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
3/4 lb. ground lamb
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsps. steak sauce
1 cup diced fresh or thawed, frozen carrots
3/4 cup thawed frozen peas
salt and white pepper to taste
3 cups cold mashed potatoes
1 egg
paprika to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and lamb; cook until the lamb has lost its pinkness.

Stir in the flour, steak sauce, carrots, peas, and salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

Transfer to a deep 10-inch pie dish. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix the potatoes and egg until thoroughly blended. Spread over the meat mixture, roughing up the surface with a fork. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the meat mixture is bubbling at edges. Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 432; protein, 15 g; carbohydrates, 26 g; fat, 20 g; cholesterol, 79 mg; sodium, 425 mg.

Deep-Dish Chicken Pie With Lattice Crust

1 small rutabaga, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
11/4 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsps. vegetable margarine, divided
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
21/2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 sheet (about 8.5 oz.) frozen puff pastry, thawed

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place the rutabaga, celery, bell pepper, mushrooms and thyme in a saucepan. Pour the chicken broth over top.

Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving the broth. You should have 1 cup. Add a little water, if needed. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon margarine in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened. Do not brown.

Add remaining margarine; heat to melt. Blend in the flour.

Remove from heat and whisk in the reserved broth. Return to medium heat and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Cook for 1 minute to thicken.

Stir in the chicken and vegetables. Pour into a deep, 10-inch pie dish.

Cut pastry sheet into strips about 3/4-inch wide. Arrange in a lattice pattern over the chicken and vegetables.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly and pastry is golden-brown. If food is browning too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil. Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 291; protein, 13 g; carbohydrates, 20 g; fat, 17 g; cholesterol, 27 mg; sodium, 333 mg.

Russian Fish Pie

In this recipe, the smoked-fish filling is wrapped in pastry, with only the center of the pastry "envelope" left open.

3/4 lb. smoked fish, skin and bones removed
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 Tbsps. coarsely chopped dill pickle
1 hard-cooked egg, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsps. snipped chives
2 Tbsps. mayonnaise or enough to moisten
pinch nutmeg and pepper
1 sheet (about 8.5 oz.) frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 Tbsps. lightly beaten egg

Preheat oven to 400°.

Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Flake the fish and place in a bowl. Add the potatoes, pickle, egg, chives, nutmeg and pepper. Stir to mix, adding enough mayonnaise to moisten. The mixture should be stiff.

Roll the pastry into a 10-inch square. Spoon the fish mixture onto the center of the pastry.

Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Fold over as in an envelope, leaving the center open to show the filling. Brush the pastry with remaining egg.

Place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is risen and golden. Reduce heat to 375°. Bake 10 minutes longer. Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 348; protein, 14 g; carbohydrates, 25 g; fat, 21 g; cholesterol, 69 mg; sodium, 653 mg.

Cornish Pasties

1 medium potato, peeled and cut in chunks
1 small white turnip, peeled and cut up
1 medium onion, cut in chunks
1/2 cup fresh or frozen diced carrots
3/4 lb. beef chuck steak, trimmed of fat and cut in thin 1/4-inch pieces
2 Tbsps. ketchup or steak sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 sheets (9-inch) ready-to-bake pareve pie crusts
beaten egg (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.

In the food processor, coarsely chop the potato, turnip and onion. Place in a bowl.

Add the carrots, beef, ketchup or steak sauce, salt and pepper. Stir to mix well.

Place one pie crust flat on a board. Spoon half the beef mixture onto one half of the pastry. Moisten pastry edges. Fold pastry over to cover filling. Press to seal. Crimp edges with thumb and forefinger or mark with a fork. Brush with beaten egg.

Cut two or three 1-inch slits on top for steam to escape.

Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. If the pastry is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil.

Cut each pasty in half and serve hot.

Makes 4 hearty servings.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 544; protein, 17 g; carbohydrates, 40 g; fat, 35 g; cholesterol, 49 mg; sodium, 844 mg.

Sweet-Potato Turkey Pie

Updated from a handwritten, gravy-spattered card found in my recipe box. This dish was popular with young marrieds in the 1960s, when canned soups were the shortcut of the times.

3 Tbsps. vegetable margarine, divided
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 can (17 oz.) vacuum packed sweet potatoes, mashed
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups diced cooked turkey
1 can (10.75 oz.) pareve condensed mushroom soup, undiluted
1 can (8.75 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup thawed, frozen peas
2 Tbsps. diced red bell pepper
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt 2 tablespoons margarine in the microwave, about 15 seconds on high. Beat the melted margarine and pumpkin pie spice into the sweet potatoes.

Line a deep, 9-inch pie plate with this mixture. Set aside.

Melt the remaining margarine in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the turkey, soup, corn, peas and bell pepper. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon into the potato shell.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Serves 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 315; protein, 18 g; carbohydrates, 30 g; fat, 14 g; cholesterol, 36 mg; sodium, 625 mg.



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