A pie for a wet April day


News flash: I have not been having a fun time recently. Well I have: there was Easter for one thing, and a singing competition for another. But there was also one conference before Easter and another one on Wednesday (I just finished my talk: now I’m totally allowed to blog in the middle of the day – right?) and an undergraduate lab course to help run (yes, I know we’re in the middle of vacation: that doesn’t stop 47 unruly undergrads turning up and needing help holding their Gilson the right way up) and somewhere in the middle of it, I got lost. A week of doing some actual exercise (hurrah!), vaguely achieving something at work (double hurrah!) and eating well (whoop!) and I’ve been feeling a bit better.

This weekend was a very rare and special thing: it was a weekend when I had nothing to do. By my standards anyway. I mean, I still had a double gym class, church, a rehearsal and a conference talk to finish, but that’s nothing by my standards. And so I did what any sane person would do on a cold wet April day: I baked a pie.

The great and glorious squash, spinach and goats cheese pie

It was a great and glorious pie, readers. It was a pie with cheesy pastry, and layers of spinach and ricotta (okay, I used mascarpone, but that doesn’t matter…), spiced butternut squash, goats cheese and garlicky onions. It was heaven. It still is heaven. I intend to eat it for lunch all week.

But it took about 4 hours to make.

In fairness, it took me and my sous chef, The Chemist, about 4 hours total, because we kept pausing to do other things, like make dirty chai toddies (more on them later) and eat dinner because it was just taking too darn long, but you’ll forgive me if I laugh in the face of the idea that you can make it in 2 hours.

The original recipe is here, but carry on reading anyway, because I’ll tell you useful things, and sometimes I’m funny.

Ingredients
2 large butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut up
A goodly sprinkle of cumin (2tsp ish) and some chilli flakes (1 tsp – it was surprisingly muted actually)
3 red onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves
1kg spinach
250g ricotta…. or Mascarpone and some salt to add
200g goats cheese… or more if you love it like I do

350g plain flour
50g coarse polenta
150g cold butter
60g grated Parmesan
1 medium egg

You will also need a tall 9 inch (23cm) tin: probably 4-5cm tall. We had to leave some of the filling out of the pie because there was just too much to fit!

Method

Ignore the instructions, and sort the squash out first. Oven on at 200C (180C for fan ovens), peel the squash, scatter the cumin and chilli and a  bit of oil over it, and leave it for 40 minutes. We ended up leaving it longer. You’re going to mash it, so provided it doesn’t burn your really can’t leave it for too long. When it’s cooked to a mush, give it a thorough mash and leave it to cool.

Slice the onions, don’t slice the garlic. After 20 minutes of the squash in the oven, throw the garlic and onions in there too. When the garlic is so well cooked that you can pop each clove out in a paste, stop roasting them and mush the whole lot together

Make the pastry. Rub the butter into the flour and polenta (I didn’t use polenta. I then needed a lot more water than the recipe said. Maybe polenta doesn’t take water). Rub it until you make breadcrumbs or get bored. Add the parmesan. Add ~4 tbsp water (i.e. about 2 shot glasses) and give it a squidge until it comes together. If your flour is like mine, add about the same amount again. Stare mournfully at your still-crumbly pastry. Give up, wrap it in paper, and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes. Then remember to take it out again before you need it: pastry does not like to be rolled at fridge-temperature! 

Boil about 17 kettles full of water. Put the spinach – bit by bit – in a colander and douse with boiling water. You’re going to need a lot of boiling water. Then douse with cold water. You’ll need to wring as much water as humanly possible out of the spinach, and when you do that without using the cold water first it hurts! (Incidentally, this is where you need a burly young sous chef: the more water you squeeze out of the spinach, the better your pie will be. Make a pithy joke about the sous chef not being strong enough. A few disparaging comments won’t go a miss either…) Chop it up. No really, do because it will make cutting the pie easier at the end. Mix it with the ricotta and leave to one side.

Spread out some baking paper so that you don’t have to wash the counter, and roll out two thirds of the pastry. It’s a bit crumbly and will complain about being rolled thin, but that’s okay: there’s quite a lot of it. Put your tin on top and vaguely score it. Pick up your baking paper and manhandle it into the tin.

Cheesy pastry in a tin

Add:
Half the spinach
Half the squash

Half the cheese
Half the spinach
Half the squash
Half the cheese
Garlicky onions

Roll out the rest of the pastry and clamp that down. Beat the egg and do an egg wash. Forget about doing anything fancy with pastry-leaves: you’re too tired for that. At this point you can freeze the pie, but honestly who would do this much work for something they weren’t going to eat straight away.

Your oven is still at 200C / 180C+fan. Stick it in, leave it for 40 minutes. Complain that it’s still not cooked. Cook it for another 10. Leave it until it’s cooled to maintain its structural integrity.

Enjoy. 

P.S. As if all of this weren’t tasty enough, if you leave the butternut squash seeds in a bowl of boiling water til the flesh floats off, and then put then under a hot grill for 5-10 minutes until they start to pop like popcorn, they make a tasty tasty snack!

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