Just to prove that things other than the (alternative) World Cup are happening here in my world, I thought I would return to regular programming for a while.
It has been cold in Melbourne of late. The kind of cold that means you only leave the house with a scarf, you have a second cup of coffee just to keep your hands warm and you are in love with comfort food. My Mum has always been good at comfort food dishes – my childhood was full of wonderfully warming and hearty dishes during winter. A weekend favourite was pasties. Mum used to make a big one that sort of “plaited” the pastry over the top of the filling making it look like lattice. It always looked very impressive and tasted even better. This is my version of her dish but I have gone for a more different shaping of the pasty (but not the genuine one as you will see). Next time I will do her version so you can see what I mean about the plaiting.
First references to the pasty can be dated back to the 13th century however evidence of it as a traditional Cornish food is found in records from the 1860s that show children took pasties with them as part of their crib or croust (local dialect for snack or lunch). By the end of the 18th century it was the staple diet of working men across Cornwall. 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. Some versions of that era had a savoury filling at one end and a jam filling at the other – essentially a two course meal. There are hundreds of stories about the evolution of the pasty’s shape, with the most popular being that the D-shape enabled tin miners to re-heat them underground as well as eat them safely. The crust (crimped edge) was used as a handle which was then discarded. A good thing for miners whose hands were more than likely dirty and, if in a tin mine, containing traces of arsenic.
But what makes a ‘genuine’ Cornish pasty? It must have the distinctive ‘D’ shape and should be crimped on one side, never on top. I read that young girls were often made to practice crimping techniques using plasticine before being allowed to work with pastry. The texture of the filling for the pasty is chunky, made up of uncooked minced or roughly cut chunks of beef, swede or turnip, potato and onion and a light peppery seasoning. The pastry casing is golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and robust enough to retain its shape throughout the cooking and cooling process without splitting or cracking. The whole pasty is slow-baked to ensure that flavours from the raw ingredients are maximised.
My recipe is neither traditional nor genuine but I like it. It pre-cooks the ingredients to allow for a faster cooking time and has grated rather than chunky fillings.
500gm mince beef
2 large potatoes (I like waxy potatoes such as Nicola for this as they hold their shape when cooked)
1 large carrot
1 medium swede
1 medium turnip
½ small sweet potato
1 large brown onion
10 green beans, chopped into 5mm bits
salt & pepper
6 store bought puff pastry sheets
egg – for glazing pastry
Preheat oven to 220C and take the pastry out of the freezer to thaw.
Peel then grate all of the vegetables. A food processor will make this task tidy and easy, but you can hand grate if you like.
In a deep frypan brown your mince and onion over a medium high heat. Then add your grated vegetables, stir through and cook for 2-3 minutes. To this mix add the worchestershire sauce, fresh thyme and about half the stock. Season with salt and pepper, reduce the heat to medium and cook for another 3 minutes or until the liquid is all but gone. Add the remaining stock and green beans, stir thoroughly and cook for a further 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow mixture to cool.
Cut each sheet of pastry into 4. Spoon a generous amount of filling into the centre of each square.
Fold diagonally to make a triangle and seal the edge flat. Now sit the pasty on the long side of the triangle so that the sealed sides are pointing up. Starting on one end, roll/crimp the pastry together. Repeat for remaining pastry squares, then put the uncooked pasties into the fridge to chill the pastry for 10-15 minutes.
Lightly whisk the egg and brush each pasty with the egg wash. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.
I like them with just a green salad to provide an alternate texture and some freshness, but you could add a homemade tomato sauce or chutney if you really wanted. Smaller pasties make great party food and larger ones a completely satisfying meal. They can also be frozen and reheated.