I make some version of this at least once every year. I think it’s a perfect vegetarian holiday meal. It’s hearty and flavorful, and it has real center-of-the-plate, star-of-the-meal attention-grabbing qualities. It boasts Dickensian levels of comfort and goes very well with mashed or roasted potatoes. This version has roasted mushrooms, french lentils, spinach, and nuts, but it’s endlessly adaptable. You can leave out the spinach, use a can of small white beans instead of cooking the lentils, vary the kinds of mushrooms, or change up the spices and herbs. (The version I’m making for Thanksgiving has no lentils or spinach, three times as many roasted mushrooms, pine nuts and caramelized fennel and shallots. It smells heavenly!) If you want to make it vegan, substitute margarine for butter, use vegan cheese (or no cheese!) and just leave out the eggs. It might be a little crumblier, but it will still be delicious. It takes a few steps to assemble, but you can do it in stages–you can make the crust, lentils and roasted mushrooms the day before.
Or you can experiment with other shapes of savory pastry–empanadas, small pies, turnovers. I’m fascinated by savory pastries in general–their history, their travels, their construction. Isn’t it interesting to think that some form of savory pastry exists all over the world? Samosas, empanadas, meat pies and pasties, calzones, it goes on and on! Many times, a version of a certain savory pastry would start in one country, and, with imperialism & colonialism, would spread all over the world, changing slightly everywhere it went, to suit the local ingredients. Take the empanada, for instance! Probably began in Spain as a large, flat pie, found its way to Latin America, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Carribean… became smaller, sometimes with a cornmeal crust, sometimes baked, sometimes fried. The possibilities are dizzying! Within certain countries, various regions proudly boast their own specific pie. Cornwall has the cornish pasty, while one small region of south London is famous for a certain kind of meat pie to be served with mash, parsley sauce (liquor) and, well, eels.
Savory pastries have enjoyed universal popularity because they are sturdy and portable. You could wrap one up in a handkerchief and take it in your pocket for lunch. Or pack it into your basket for a picnic. Or serve it to your vegetarian and vegan friends for a special holiday meal.
2 cups flour
1/2 t salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, frozen (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup (+/-) ice water
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper. Grate in the frozen butter. Mix it in with a fork until you have a piece-y texture – like fine crumbs. Add just enough ice water to pull it together into a workable dough. Knead for under a minute, till everything is nicely combined. Form into a flattened ball. Wrap in foil and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
10 oz button mushrooms (just regular white mushrooms, although baby bellas or portobellas work as well)
a few T olive oil
one large shallot
one clove garlic
- preheat oven to 400.
2. cut the mushrooms into a fine dice. It doesn’t need to be completely even – variation will just give the mushrooms nice texture.
3. add finely diced shallot and finely chopped herbs. Drizzle olive oil over and mix well. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Stir frequently. After about 10 minutes add finely diced garlic.
4. The mushrooms go through a few stages while they cook. They’ll release their juices, and then they’ll dry up again, and eventually get crispy and caramelized. This is what we’re going for! You don’t want them to be black and charred, but don’t be afraid to let them get quite dark brown. They’ll reduce a lot, too, you might end up with about a cup.
5. season well with salt and pepper.
1 cup french lentils (also called puy lentils or green lentils)
1 T olive oil
1 medium-sized shallot – diced very fine
1 clove of garlic – diced very fine
2 bay leaves
bit of butter, bit of balsamic
salt & Black pepper to taste
1. in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. When warm but not sizzling, add the shallot (it has to be very finely diced, or you’ll get big lumps of boiled shallot!). When the shallot starts to brown add the garlic. When the garlic starts to brown (after less than a minute) add the…
2. Lentils. They should be rinsed a few times, and any little non-lentil detritus removed. Let them sizzle in the olive oil for a minute or two, stirring them to coat completely, and then add…
3. About 5 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low, and simmer until done. Test after 15 minutes, but it might take closer to 20. You want them to be soft, but not mushy, they should still have their own shape, and almost a little crunch.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir it right into the broth. Strain the lentils, but keep the liquid, because it makes a delicious broth to add to soups or stews.
5. Add a dollop of butter and a dash of balsamic to the lentils, to really bring out their flavor.
THE REST OF IT
3 cups fresh spinach, soaked, rinsed, and drained
1 T olive oil
1 t red pepper flakes
2 pieces stale whole wheat bread, processed into crumbs
1 cup mixed nuts, processed into small pieces (but not puréed, you want some crunch)
1 cup (+/-) grated cheese. I used sharp cheddar and smoked gouda, but you can use any kind you like
2 eggs, beaten, reserve 1 T to brush the top
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
When you’re ready to assemble everything…
Preheat the oven to 425.
In a large bowl combine the mushrooms and about 1 1/2 cups lentils. (Save the rest to toss with rice, pasta, or salad greens).
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pepper flakes. When the oil is hot, drop in the spinach. Sautée for about five minutes, till it’s wilted but still very bright, and the pan is quite dry. Let cool till you can handle, and the roughly chop. Put that in the bowl with the mushrooms and lentils.
Add the nuts and breadcrumbs to the bowl. Grate in the cheese, and mix well. Stir in the eggs.
Lightly butter and flour a large cake pan or springform pan. Divide the chilled dough into 3/4 and 1/4 pieces. On a floured surface roll out the large piece to be about 1/8th inch thick, and large enough to fit up the sides of your pan. Fit it over the pan, and press the edges down and around to form a lower casing. Don’t worry about the edges being perfectly neat.
Spoon the filling into the pastry-lined pan. Roll the smaller piece of dough to be about 1/8th inch thick, and place this round over the top of the pie. Seal the edges lightly, and then roll the outside edge down over the inside edge. Crimp the edges with a fork, and poke the top of the pastry in a few places with a fork. Brush with beaten egg.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes till the top is puffed and crispy and golden brown. Allow to cool and set for a few minutes before turning it out of it’s pan.