A PROPER (vegetarian) PIE

For many moons now I have wanted to make my lovely boy a proper, fat, meaty, winter-warmer PIE. Pies are to boys, what salads are (unfortunately) to girls. The stereotypical British man spends his evenings tucking into massive plates of beef and ale pie, mashed potatoes and token greens, washed down with a pint of beer and darts on the TV. At least, in my head. But as we all know, this is not all men! And especially not lovely vegetarian men 🙂

When Ben was a meat-eater, I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing that one of his favourite meals was that most repulsive of convenience foods – Fray Bentos pie-in-a-tin. With mash and veg. And probably a pint of squash, seeing as he wouldn’t have been old enough to drink. While there are few things he misses about being a carnivore (fish, funnily enough, being one of the only things) he does sometimes reminisce about FB pies with a dreamy, faraway look in his eyes. So I decided to challenge myself to make the meatiest non-meat pie I could, and this was the result!

First things first – fillings. I wanted something hearty, steaky and gravy-y. No chicken and white sauce over here thanks! Unfortunately, steak is one of the hardest flavours to replicate in vegetarian form and we had sadly run out of seitan – the closest taste/texture we’ve found so far. So, I settled for Sainsburys own ‘meatballs’ with some veggie sausages thrown in for good measure. The sausages were very herby and flavourful and added a hefty meatiness to the mixture without much effort, always a good thing.

I started, as always, with chopped onions and garlic. I also made myself a little pan of very finely chopped onions and garlic for my own dinner – mushroom-less, pastry-less pie. So basically just pie filling – I’m a bit weird and don’t really like pastry or the shedload of calories it brings to every meal. I also despise mushrooms unless they are super finely chopped. A kids version for me!

I chopped up the meatballs and sausages and added them into the pan, along with some big chunks of chestnut mushrooms. Then, a selection of seasonings including rosemary, sage, salt and pepper followed by a generous slug of ale. We were slightly overwhelmed by the selection of ales in the supermarket and so plumped for a bottle of bog standard Newcastle Brown Ale. I simmered the mixture for about ten minutes, adding more herbs as I went until it tasted lovely and hearty.

Once I was sufficiently happy with the taste of the filling, it was pastry time! For convenience I used a 500g pack of ready-to-roll shortcrust pastry. I divided the mixture into two balls of approximately 2/3rds and 1/3rd – the 2/3rds for the base and 1/3rd for the lid. It was then just a case of rolling the dough out with a bit of flour into a shape that would fit into the bottom of my pie dish with enough to line the sides.  (Apologies for the jaundice photos, I am hoping Santa is going to bring me a shiny new DSLR for Christmas this year which will pretty much change my life, and this blog, for the better!)

I then spooned the mixture into the dish and it filled up nicely, about 3/4’s of the way up the sides. Next came the bit I was nervous about – adding the lid! But, it was really simple and with a bit of deft flipping and quick fingers, my pie was lidded. I ‘forked’ the sides to achieve that authentic pie effect and added some hearts to the top with some of the leftover pastry I had. Cute!

I brushed the top with milk and it went into the oven. I kept checking to make sure the pastry wasn’t burning but a medium heat seemed to do the trick. It emerged, shiny and golden, 45 minutes later and I cut into it with Ben watching eagerly over my shoulder.

Check it out! A proper pie!!

I served Ben a verrrryyy generous slice onto a plate already bulging with mashed potato, green beans and peas. I whipped up a quick gravy and his dinner was served. My dinner? Don’t worry about me, I had my tasty child-like pie filling and mash and was a very happy girl. A glass of wine helped immensely with this.

 

The filling was thoroughly ‘meaty’ – both in taste and texture. The medley of herbs combined with the reduced-down ale was really tasty and the Quorn meatballs broke apart slightly during cooking, which thickened the sauce. I really feel this is about as meaty as you can get with vegetarian pies – obviously vegetable and non-meat pies are delicious but sometimes it’s nice to just use fake meat as it was intended – a substitute for meat! In this instance, Quorn works extremely well and I really recommend this recipe if you or someone you love fancies a proper meat pie!

Pan Fried Gnocci with Pesto and Ricotta Cheese

We’ve been eating regular boiled gnocci for quite a while now but it was not until recently that I came across the idea of pan-frying it, after watching a classic Nigella episode in which she did just that. The recipe is called ‘Rapid Roastini’ and she basically treats the gnocci as a potato accompaniment to meat, rather than the base of a pasta dish. Very interesting!

I tried out the pan fried gnocci with a few simple ingredients in order to let the gnocci be the star of the show. I started by boiling the gnocci for a few minutes according to the instructions on the packet. I then drained it and transferred it to a hot pan with a splash of olive oil and lots of salt and pepper.

After about 10 minutes of pan frying, the gnocci were crispy, crunchy, golden little nuggets. Don’t they look amazing!? I had to forcibly stop myself ‘testing’ them as the number in the pan was dwindling at an alarming rate.

I was STILL in the thick of my pesto phase when I made this dish so added a generous spoonful to the pan along with some sliced, deseeded cherry tomatoes. We always deseed our tomatoes as I hate when they go all watery – I recently discovered Our Lady Nigella does too, therefore this is the way forward. I also added a few big handfuls of baby leaf spinach in order to up the nutrients and general goodness in what has the potential to be a pretty unhealthy dish. The spinach wilted and mixed in perfectly with the pesto and tomatoes to form a pretty convincing sauce. I think this would be a perfect way to sneak in some extra greens for kids (or fussy boyfriends!)

I did consider adding some chicken or Quorn chicken pieces but decided it didn’t really need it. I do think the addition of some protein could make it into a more substantial dish though.

I topped the gnocci mixture with a few tablespoons of ricotta cheese and placed it under the grill for a few minutes. Ricotta cheese doesn’t really melt or obviously change as most cheeses do but it did add another depth of flavour to the dish. And clearly, cheese is always going to be a successful addition to dinner.

(Can you see how much salt is on there!? I do like a bit of food with my salt.)

This was such a simple, delicious plate of food. I bought all the ingredients again the following Friday night and made the exact same dish because it was just that good. It consists of 5 ingredients and comes together in less than 15 minutes –  the perfect simple recipe for a Friday night when you just want something a bit more special than a pizza. 🙂

Lazy-Boy ‘Homemade’ Pizzas

One evening a couple of weeks ago, we were fancying pizza. But, I wanted a really quite specific combination of ingredients that none of the pizzas in our local Budgens were offering. So, DIY was the solution! Well, semi DIY. It was a Wednesday night and we weren’t really feeling the homemade dough option so we picked up a couple of ready-made bases with the intention of making them into something a bit more special.

I am currently going through an intense pesto phase so we picked up some green pesto, goats cheese and stuffed olives to act as the main stars of the show. We then added various bits and bobs from the fridge that were going off. Pizzas are a great way to use up the items laying forgotten in your fridge!

The bases are pre-cooked so we were able to start assembling our ingredients straightaway. Don’t they look appetising? (…..)

We obviously started with tomato paste, just a standard tube, nothing fancy here.

I then added a layer of PESTO to ensure the green goodness would be present in every single bite. Winner!

Ben then informed me he didn’t actually want pesto which I initially found pretty hard to come to terms with until I realised it would mean more for me. Fabulous. He decided to go the crazy-hot route and spread a liberal amount of hot salsa on top of his tomato paste. This is another reason why homemade pizzas are the best – you don’t have to settle for a pizza flavour you both only kinnnddaaa like, everyone can have their favourite!

Skipping forward approximately half an hour because the process of pizza making has been photographed many times, this is what emerged from the oven! Uh, amazing!

I had a layer of tomato paste and pesto, topped with cherry tomatoes, green olives, red pepper, Quorn chicken pieces and a liberal sprinkling of  goats cheese. This flavour combination is a real keeper! I wouldn’t normally go for a veggie topping (very much a pepperoni girl, or of course, Padana) but this was really flavourful and every bite was different which was quite exciting. It was also VERY filling and I was only able to eat half!  I had the leftovers for lunch the next day and the pizza was just as delicious cold.

Ben had hot sauce as a base with a combination of jalapeno peppers, Quorn chicken pieces, olives, tomatoes and peppers. Apparently this was also a winning combo which is saying something as he is quite the connoisseur when it comes to vegetarian pizza toppings. We’ll definately be using these pizza bases again; they are super cheap (£1.50 for two at the most?) and while obviously not as delicious as homemade dough, a strong contender for a quick weeknight dinner!