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Vegetarian Pies: Perfect Pastry and Favourite Fillings

Winter is the perfect time to make and enjoy eating pies as they are the ultimate comfort food. You can buy individual vegetarian pies, but it’s much more fun to create your own fillings and make your own pastry. This is precisely what we teach on our  Warming Winter Pies course, but for those of you who can't make it or simply can't wait to get stuck in, here's a quick guide to making amazing vegetarian and vegan pies.

The key to perfect pastry

At the cookery school, the most common question we get asked, is how to make pastry that doesn’t fall apart and crumble? Our secret to success is making pastry by hand in small quantities. If you’re new to pastry making, start with shortcrust pastry as it’s versatile and can be left plain for savoury pies or made sweet with the addition of sugar for dessert tarts. 

Pastry is all about cooling and resting! To rub the fat into the flour successfully, you need to make sure the butter doesn’t melt.

  • Use butter, unsalted is best, straight from the fridge.
  • Cut your butter into small cubes and refrigerate again.
  • Make sure your mixing bowl is cold; again pop it in the fridge.
  • Make sure your hands are as cool as possible, try running them under cold water before you start.
  • Work quickly as the longer it takes to rub the butter into the flour, the warmer the mix will become.
  • Mix in very cold water to form the pastry into a ball.
  • To rest the dough, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to relax the gluten. Gluten is the protein in the flour and gives the pastry its stretch. If you find your pastry always shrinks or is tough, that’s because the pastry wasn’t rested long enough.
  • Flour your work surface lightly and always flour your rolling pin, to stop the pastry sticking to it.
  • Roll the pastry out on a cold surface; marble is best, but granite or stainless steel work well.
  • Once you have rolled out the pastry and put it into the pie cases, chill again to help stop the pastry shrinking.

Don't have time to make your own pastry? Don't worry, you can always buy ready made shortcrust or even filo pastry.

The fun is in the filling

Once you have made or bought your pastry and prepared the cases, the fun part is deciding on the fillings. As always, it’s best to use whatever ingredients are in season at the time. We also recommend you either steam or roast your chosen vegetables until just cooked before using them to fill the pies.

In winter, robust flavours with strong tasting herbs and even some fiery chillies work really well. The seasonal vegetables that work best are celeriac, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, leeks, squash and mushrooms. For texture and protein you can also add pulses such as puy lentils, butter beans and chickpeas. With roasted vegetables the filling will be quite dry, so add some liquid such as a white sauce, cream, alcohol or stock. Experiment with herbs and spices and make the pies with or without lids. You can also try different cheeses to add flavour such as feta, goats’ cheese, blue cheese, Brie and cheddar. The great thing about pies is that they freeze really well so make extra for quick meals, they just need to be defrosted before cooking.


Shortcrust pastry

Dietary: can be vegan if using dairy free margarine in place of butter and soya milk

Makes 1 large pie or 4 individual pies using large (100ml) ramekins, metal dariole moulds or 3-inch metal rings

  • 300g plain flour
  • 150g butter (or margarine if vegan)
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • A little water as needed
  • Milk to glaze
  • Olive oil to rub the pie tin

Pastry method

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 C.
  2. Put the flour and butter into a bowl (or a food processor) and rub (or whiz) until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the mustard and stir in well, or whiz, until the mixture forms a ball.
  4. If the mixture is too dry add a little water until it comes together easily.
  5. Wrap the pastry in cling-film and leave in the fridge to chill for at least an half an hour, this can be left overnight and will keep for 3 days in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer. It helps if you flatten the pastry into a disk before chilling.
  6. Split the pastry into the number of pies you want to make and then take about ¾ of each ball to make the pie case-the rest if for making the lid.
  7. Roll out the larger ball of pastry out to a thickness of 2mm with a rolling pin.
  8. Rub the inside of the ramekins or rings with olive oil and push the pastry gently into the dish so that it goes into all of the edges and hangs over the top.
  9. Trim off the overhang to 1cm below the top of the ramekin (the pastry will shrink when cooking).
  10. You will be left with extra pastry for topping the pies later-wrap this in cling-film so it doesn’t dry out.
  11. Bake the pasty blind (no filling) for 10 minutes, by lining the pastry cases with baking parchment and filling with baking beans, we use dried kidney beans, but you can buy baking beans. Doing this sets the pastry.
  12. Remove the beans and paper and return to the oven for 5 minutes-the pastry should look dry and pale golden, if it still looks uncooked return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
  13. Fill the pie case to the top with your chosen filling. Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid and place this on top of the pie.
  14. Crimp around the edges by pressing with a fork or squeezing around the edge with your fingers to create a pinched edge.
  15. Using a sharp knife carefully trim off the excess pastry so that you seal the lid and tidy the pie’s edges.
  16. Brush the top of the pie lid with egg or milk (soya is fine) and add and decorations you fancy.
  17. Bake the pies on a baking tray for 15 minutes or until they are golden on the top.

Instead of making individual pies you could make one big family-sized pie to share: just use a larger ovenproof dish and blind bake the pastry as above. You may need to cook the larger pies for a little longer, until the pastry is cooked all over.

Here are recipes for our favourite fillings:


Roasted Squash, Spinach, Butterbean and Cumin

Serves: 4

Dietary: Vegan option

Ingredients

  • ½ a small butternut squash (approx 300g)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, whole-skin left on
  • 2 sprigs of sage
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable/sunflower oil to roast
  • 50g spinach leaves-washed and roughly chopped
  • 100ml tomato passata (or boiling water with 1 tbsp tomato puree)
  • Juice of a lemon (use to taste)
  • 1 tin of butterbeans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds, dry fried and ground
  • A few sprigs of thyme, leaves pulled off the stalks
  • Optional: 100g feta cheese

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200 C. 
  2. Chop the top and bottom from the squash and halve it through the middle. Remove the seeds with a spoon and then chop the flesh into 1 cm sized cubes-if you like you can peel the squash first but you don’t have to, as it is perfectly edible.
  3. Place the squash, garlic cloves and sage in a large roasting tin and drizzle with the oil.
  4. Place the squash in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes or until the squash is soft.
  5. While the filling is roasting dry fry the cumin in a frying pan until it smells fragrant and there is a light smoke. Grind in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder.
  6. Remove the garlic and squeeze out it’s soft flesh and chop it finely. Add this back into the squash along with the spinach, butterbeans, thyme, cumin, lemon and nutmeg. Stir through the tomato passata.
  7. Return the dish to the oven for 5-10 minutes or until the spinach has wilted and the beans are warm Taste and add salt, pepper and lemon.
  8. Crumble in the feta if you are using it.

Tips:

Any leftovers of this dish will be lovely served as a warm or cold salad

You can turn this into a warming squash chilli by adding a tin of tomatoes and simmering for 10 minutes before serving with rice and flour tortillas, you may want to add extra spices such as chilli, paprika, and coriander to add a Mexican feel.


Leek, Potato and Parsley

Serves: 4

Dietary: Vegan Option

Ingredients

  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp butter or soya margarine
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 250ml milk or soya milk
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • A generous grating of nutmeg
  • Optional: 50g grated strong cheddar or Gruyere. A splash of cream or dairy free cream

Method

  1. Chop the potato into 1cm cubes (you can peel it or leave the skin on depending on your preference)
  1. Heat a large pan of water to boiling and then cook the potatoes for 5 minutes; they should be tender but not falling apart. Drain the potatoes in a colander.
  2. In a saucepan heat the oil and gently fry leeks and onions with a little onion until soft.
  3. Add the butter and allow it to melt and then add the mustard seeds and stir for a minute.
  4. Add the flour and stir until the flour has lightened and thickened-this will take a couple of minutes.
  5. Gradually add 200ml milk, allowing the sauce to thicken between each addition.
  6. Add the grated nutmeg and season well. Add any cheese you like at this point.
  7. Add the boiled potato and stir gently.
  8. Season to taste and add the chopped parsley.

Tips

  • This filling can easily be turned into a leek and potato soup by adding stock and a little cream if you like.


Sweet Potato, Puy Lentil, Chilli & Coriander

Serves Dietary: vegan

Ingredients

  • 50g puy lentils
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ a small onion, halved
  • 1 medium sweet potato (approx 300g) peeled and chopped into 1 cm cubes
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (mild, hot or smoked to your taste)
  • 1 red chilli, chopped
  • 100-200ml stock or water
  • The juice and zest of a lemon
  • 50g a handful of chopped fresh coriander

Method

  1. Place the lentils in a small pan with the bay leaves and half an onion and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 25 minutes or until they are tender and then remove the bay and onion, rinse and set aside.
  1. Heat a large frying pan and add the oil. Fry the onions gently until they are really soft-this may take up to 15 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, paprika and chilli and stir well. Add the chopped sweet potato and fry for a couple of minutes before adding a squeeze of the lemon juice and its zest and 100ml of stock or water so that the sweet potato doesn’t dry out.
  3. Cook the sweet potato for 15 minutes; it should be soft and you may need to add a little more liquid while cooking.
  4. Stir in the Puy lentils and coriander.
  5. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper and lemon to taste.

Tips:

  • This filling would also make a great salad served warm or cold and could also be made into a soup if you add more stock-this could be pureed or left chunky.
  • You could also make this filling with squash instead of sweet potato and use tinned lentils or beans.
  • Try adding different spices such as cumin, coriander, ginger, mustard seeds or varying the herbs.

If you'd like hands-on help with making delicious vegetarian pies, join us on our Warming Winter Pies course! Or try these other delicious pie recipes: 


Food photography by superstar Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures.

What are you favourite pie fillings? We'd love to hear about them.

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