Friday, August 24, 2007

Pastie, Anyone?

Friday night I made pastie for dinner--the first one of the year. The first pastie is always a special occasion. I usually save it for a good, chilly, fall night...but it also works well on a night that you can't handle the thought of shlepping all the kids to the store and you realize with a start that you actually DO have the makings for dinner--a pound of ground beef, a couple of carrots, a slice of onion, some leftover potatoes. That's about all it takes. And oh, the wonder it can create!

Pastie is nothing more than a Finnish version of shepherd's pie, but it has huge clout in our house. It's a recipe I learned from my mother in law, who learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother, etc etc. I listened to Justin rave about it for years before I finally had the opportunity to try it for the first time. It's one of those dishes that doesn't have to be fancy or expensive to still make you feel like you're part of something bigger, a deeper history. I was honored to have the recipe given to me, and I look forward to the day I can pass it on to the wives of my boys.
I still remember clearly an afternoon last fall when I was attempting to make this dish, and Reuben, who was only about 10 months at the time, was throwing a fit and was absolutely inconsolable. You know the times they want nothing else but for you to sit and hold them? And here I was, watching the clock and trying desperately to have dinner on the table on time, even with the rolling and the chopping and the baking. I finally gave in and held Reuben on my hip while simultaneously trying to prepare my pastry for the pie. It was a mess. Dinner was still ready on time, and it tasted the same, but it wasn't the prettiest pastie. Parts of the crust were thicker than others and there were parts that were hanging over the edge of the pie plate....but when I finally got it in the oven, exhausted, I suddenly thought of how many other mothers over the centuries must have made sloppy pasties because their babies were cranky and needy and wanted to be held....and it made me all weepy. I am just one of a long line of women trying to take care of their families. I don't worry about how pretty my pies are anymore.

Here's the recipe, for any of you curious readers:

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup + 2 T shortening

1) Cut these three ingredients together in a large bowl (with two knives or a pastry blender). Don't blend it too much--it should look like it has a bunch of little peas in it (the lumps of shortening). Add 6T ice water, 2 T at a time, stirring with a fork after each addition. The trick here is to make the pastry dough a little "wetter" than you think it should be, so that when you roll it out with the extra flour, it'll be just perfect. If it's too dry at first, it will crumble into little pieces when you try to roll it out!
2) Divide the dough into two halves, and roll out one half to fit in your pie plate (with a bit of overlap). For those of you new to pastry: fold your circle of dough in half, then in half again; lift the pie-shaped piece into your plate and then gently unfold it---this method is much easier than trying to lift a single piece of dough without tearing it!


1)Peel 3 or 4 russet potatoes, placing each one as you peel it into a big bowl of ice water. Now take them back out one at a time and cut them up, letting the pieces fall back into the water bowl. Cutting potatoes for pastie should involve no cutting board whatsoever; just hold the potato in one hand and use your cutting hand and a paring knife to cut off little irregular bite-size pieces, starting at the back of the potato and pulling the knife towards you. Each bite should look totally different from the others, yet all about the same size and thickness, so they'll cook evenly. My mother in law swears that these funny little potatoes are one of the trademarks of a good pastie. Once they're all cut, go ahead and pour them into a colander to drain while you get your other ingredients ready.

2)Shred about 3 large carrots and dice up a slice or two of yellow onion (about 1/4 cup).

3)Okay, here's the good part. Take your dish lined with yummy pastry dough and
put in about a handful of the potatoes, spreading them evenly. Season with salt and pepper (I do this quite liberally). Now take your raw ground beef (1/2 lb to a lb....this is meant to be a "poor man's dish"...just use what you can afford!) and squish it between your fingers to break it into little bites over your pie plate. Keep squishing and dropping the pieces until you have a good even layer. Add more pepper, sprinkle on your diced onion; now add your carrots, making a good mound of them that is higher in the middle and slopes towards the edges. This gives your pastie its shape. Put on the remaining potatoes, add a few good dollops of butter, and more salt and pepper. Now turn up the overhanging sides of the crust and put a few drops of water on them so they will stick to the top crust. Roll out your other piece of pastry, cut a few slits in it so steam can escape, and crown your pastie! Bake at 350 on the low/middle rack of your oven for about an hour, then make a little foil tent and cover it to prevent browning; bake for another 30 mins or so.

**Here's the final note about pastie: It's all in the presentation. The proper way to enjoy this pie is to slice a nice big piece, take off the top crust, flip it over, and slather it with butter. Drizzle the meat and potatoes with ketchup and enjoy!

Here's the finished product.
Isn't it lovely?

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