When you go to a football game in the southern part of Australia, where we follow Australian Rules Football, a home grown style of footy first played in Melbourne in the 1800’s, the standard stadium food is a meat pie, with sauce, otherwise known as a pie ‘n sauce. Meat pies are essentially English – but when eaten in front of an Aussie rules football match, they become quintessentially Australian. Pies have ancient origins – Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all ate a form of pastry wrapped around meat fillings – and indeed most cultures have some form of parcel created as a nifty way of using leftovers and eating on the move. Bad versions of the English/Aussie pie exist. Last time I checked a brand called Four ‘n Twenty was still making the pies for the big stadiums like the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the brutal truth is that there are far better pies out there, but a four ‘n twenty does taste good when eaten amongst the roar of an excited football crowd. A pie at the footy is like a ritual, part of the stadium experience.
Mediocre pies and football aside, a really great pie has flakey / buttery / melt in your mouth pastry and a filling with personality. In winter, when cooking in a cast iron pot – ox tail stew, osso buco, beouf bourguignon – feels so comforting and right, the left overs call out to be stuffed into a pie and eaten the next day. The trusty sidekick to the pie is the sausage roll, a blend of sausage meat, onion, carrots and parsley enclosed in a flakey pastry. Simply wonderful when well made made, very average when not.
There are indeed more ways than one to make a pie. There are family sized pies, and the individual pies we eat at sporting events and from country bakeries on long road trips. Then there are party pies, a mini version for kids’ birthdays and other get togethers. You can make a pie in a ceramic dish and just give it a flakey top, or bake it using an all purpose pie crust top and bottom. Perhaps the Rolls Royce of pies involves a lard/butter shortcrust base, with a puff pastry lid. I’ve included a number of pastry types here, to satisfy various combinations.
As for the fillings, left-over osso buco or ox-tail stew are good, and I am lazily leading you to both recipes by Rachel Roddy, while for super authentic fine mince filling, good for individual and party pies, I really like fellow Melbourne girl Toni Brancatisano’s beef mince filling (even though she does barack for the wrong footy team). Emiko Davies has a beautiful beef and red wine stew in Florentine, and a simple beef and onion stew is also great, with the optional addition of pancetta and mushrooms.
Steak, pancetta e onion stew pie filling
600 g chuck steak – manzo per spezzatino
80 g pancetta
2 small onions
300 ml red wine
500 ml beef or veg stock
salt and pepper
sprig or two of thyme
1 tbs plain flour
Finely dice onions and sauté gently in extra virgin olive oil, together with the diced pancetta, in a good heavy based saucepan. Remove onions from pan and then quickly brown pieces of beef that have been seasoned with salt and pepper, in batches over a high heat in plenty of evo, replace onions, add thyme and mix well, then cover with red wine and beef stock.
Cook for about 2 hrs over a very low flame or until the meat has softened and started to fall apart. Add water or beef stock as required. Once the meat has cooked remove chunk and pull apart while you reduce the sauce, adding a little plain flour to thicken. Season to taste.
All purpose Pie and Pastie Crust
Pies have wet fillings and therefore need a strong case to hold them together, after all they were invented as a clever way of eating using your hands and without the use of implements.
For 4 individual pies
250 g 00 flour
125 g butter
90 ml cold water (add slightly more if req)
Pinch of salt
Sift the flour into a large bowl with salt. Cube the cold butter and rub into the flours until partially ground down into sand like crumbs. Add the cold water and stir well until the pastry comes together and then turn out onto a well floured work surface, knead quickly then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Heat the oven to 180°C.
Roll out the flour on a well floured surface. Marble is good because it is cold and helps stop the butter in the pastry from melting. Cut out two sizes of discs from the pastry – one much larger that the pie tin, and one slightly smaller. Lightly flour the pie tins and line the bases. I like using quite low tins, so that the pie comes well up out out of the tin and has more contact with the heat of the oven.
Fill the bases and then place the top disk on filling. Pleat the extra pastry from the base together so that it fits the top, squeezing together well. Fold over a little of the pleated top and pinch into a decorative edge.
Brush with an egg wash and bake until golden brown.
Hot water pie crust
This recipe is adapted from a recipe by Erin McDowell on food 52. In her preface to the recipe she talks about how the British are fond of hot water pie pastry, and how the hot water helps create greater crispiness, which is a noble attribute in a pie crust. It is a very sturdy pastry, which helps when fillings are wet.
The important thing is that a hot pie crust needs to be made when you are ready to use it, i.e. pie fillings need to be at the ready and the oven on. Unlike cold water and egg pastries that can be made ahead of time and that actually need an hour or so of rest in the fridge before use.
The recipe below has smaller more manageable quantities. Double the recipe if you want to make a larger pie.
Enough for 6 pie bases or 3 full pies
175 g plain or 00 flour
40 g manitoba or bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
50 ml boiling water
75 g butter
75 g lard
Sift flours and salt together in a large heatproof bowl. Remove butter and lard from fridge and bring to room temperature and cut into small pieces.
Pour boiling water over the two fats allowing them to melt. Make sure the liquid remains hot, if necessary reheat on stove or in microwave. Pour the hot liquid into the flour and mix energetically until the pastry comes together. Perhaps start with a fork and then move to a spatula to mix the ingredients, which at first will seem lumpy but after a good kneading will take on a more uniform appearance.
Knead the dough quickly on a wooden board (marble for example will cool it down too quickly) and then roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper.
Mix everything while liquid is HOT. Roll between parchment paper.
The hot water lard pastry base with a rough puff lid is perfect for the deluxe version of a pie.
All buter (simple) puff pastry.
Real puff pastry is a laborious process that involves much folding and refrigerating to produce that – oh so wonderful – effect of buttery layers. A puff pastry is suitable for open baked items like sausage rolls and turnovers, in other words where the pastry is not squashed into a tin and covered by filling where it has no hope of ever rising. This is a simplified version of the real deal, which saves on time but is still far superior to what can be achieved with store bought pastry. This recipe is an adaption of Dan Lepard’s All Butter Puff, which I borrowed from my friend and awesome baker Daniel Etherington.
125 g plain flour
125 g manitoba flour
250 g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
85 g cold water
Sieve the flour and salt together and add 75 g of the butter and rub in with your fingertips fully.
Add cold water and mix till all comes together. Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Wrap with plastic film and refrigerate for 30 mins.
Roll pastry out to approx. 25 x 40 cm. Slice the remaining cold butter and lay out over two thirds of the pastry. Fold down the unbuttered third and then the buttered third, closing the package well. Roll over the top to press out the air bubbles.
Chill for 30 minutes. A real puff pastry would then start a 4 to 6 step process of chilling and rolling, folding, chilling and rolling. Rough puff can be made by rolling and folding the pastry several times (2 – 4) without all the in between chilling. Don’t try this on a really hot day or the butter layers will melt out everywhere, but if the kitchen is cool enough you can still get good layering without too much effort.
This quick puff makes superb sausage rolls.
Sausage roll filling
250 g fine minced sausage meat – in Italy I would suggest buying the fine luganica sausages and pushing them out of their casing
150 g breadcrumbs
2 grated carrots
1 handfull parsley – finely chopped
salt and pepper
Mix all ingredients together well and store covered in refrigerator while pastry is prepared.
Sausage rolls are easy to assemble. Roll out the pastry to approximately 30 cm high by 40 cm long and cut in half horizontally. Lay out a (sausage) of filling and roll the pastry over the mix so that it overlaps. You can give a light egg was to help close the pastry, then prick with a fork to help close well as well as giving some ventilation to the sausage mix as it cooks.
What about the tomato sauce?
In Australia we call ketchup tomato sauce, and we like it with our pies and sausage rolls, even though in the good old days a fine tomato relish would be what people served. I am always happy when I have a jar of Carla Tomasi’s tomato chutney to hand. My kids love tomato sauce, and so recently we started making our own, partly because you actually know what’s in it, partly to help downsize our plastic recycling bag. Here is the recipe, I sterlise my bottles but don’t pasteurize so this needs to be kept in the fridge.
1 bottle (750ml) of tomato passata
1 small onion
2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 tsp white sugar
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Gently fry off diced onion in a little olive oil. Add tomato passata and cook until it comes to the boil. Let it bubble for 5 minutes on a low heat, and then add spices and seasonings, stirring well. Take off heat, blend with a stick blender and pour into a sterilised glass bottle. Let it cool and then refrigerate. We then pour part of the bottle into a squuezey plastic bottle for use at the table.
Photos are mine apart from the Pies with Sauce and Sausage Rolls which are by Lorenzo Poli.