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The savory side of pie

No offense to apples or cherries, but winter demands hearty fillings

Say the word “pie” and most folks will turn their thoughts to apple, cherry or coconut cream.

But long before pie was reserved for the dessert cart, pies were savory fare – crusts filled with meat, vegetables and gravy, eggs, cheese, seafood or other sauces.

Baking ingredients inside a crust was a good way to use up leftovers or to turn just a small amount of meat into heartier fare.

Classic pot pie is one of the best-loved savory pies, and can be made with or without a bottom crust. Ladle hot filling into bakers or ramekins, and all the dish needs is a topper of pie crust or puff pastry to give it a golden brown finish.

Turkey, chicken, beef or even ham, combined with gravy, potatoes and other vegetables, baked into a rich crust is one of the ultimate comfort foods.

While it looks time-consuming, a chicken pot pie can be quickly assembled using meat pulled from a grocery store rotisserie chicken, frozen vegetables, and pre-made pie crust or thawed sheets of frozen puff-pastry dough.

To serve up a savory pie in traditional style, look to the British for inspiration.

“Tart It Up!” (Mitchell Beazley, $19.99), a new book from British food television chef Eric Lanlard, is devoted to sweet and savory pies and tarts.

Lanlard offers recipes for traditional European dishes: French quiche Lorraine, Brittany seafood tart, and Iberian chicken pie laced with paprika and cayenne pepper.

Likewise, British chef Jamie Oliver, in his new book “Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain” (Hyperion, $35), explores British pub fare and comfort foods, from shepherd’s pie under a crown of mashed potatoes to Cornish pasties, which were the traditional lunch for tin miners in England’s Cornwall County.

When those miners immigrated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, South Dakota and Butte, Mont., for work, they brought the tradition of pasties with them, where they remain to this day. Eating these savory hand pies is still a big attraction for visitors.

With colder weather upon us, consider baking up some comfort food in a crust with one of these recipes.

Cheesy Chicken Pot Pies

Adapted from “The Picky Palate Cookbook,” Jenny Flake

2 cups baby red potatoes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups finely chopped white onion

1 cup finely chopped carrot

1 cup celery, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast

1 cup frozen peas

8 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray six 2-cup ramekins with nonstick cooking spray.

Add the baby potatoes to a large pot of water, bring to a boil and cook until fork tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. (If potatoes are large, halve or quarter before cooking.)

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the chicken and peas and cook, stirring for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to low.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour, salt and pepper and whisk for 1 minute. Slowly add the chicken broth, whisking until thick and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the cheddar cheese, stirring until melted. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables. Stir in the potatoes.

Divide the filling among the prepared ramekins. Cut the puff pastry into six 5-inch rounds and place over the filling. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until puff pastry is golden brown. Let the pies sit for 10 minutes and serve warm.

Yield: 6 servings

Iberian Chicken Pie

Adapted from “Tart It Up! Sweet & Savory Tarts & Pies,” Eric Lanlard

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound chicken, cut into cubes

7 ounces chorizo, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons paprika

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 recipe flaky pastry dough (recipe follows)

All-purpose flour, for dusting

1 egg, beaten

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter and oil in a skillet and sauté the chicken over medium heat until it starts to brown. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Add the chorizo to the skillet and sauté for a few minutes until it starts to release its oil, then add the garlic and cayenne and cook for a minute or so, stirring to make sure they don’t burn.

Add the tomatoes and paprika and return the chicken to the skillet. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the sauce with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley. Spoon the mixture into a large 3- to 3 1/2-quart ovenproof dish, about 12 by 8 by 2 inches.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. Brush the rim of the ovenproof dish with some of the beaten egg. Cover the pie with the pastry and trim off any excess. Use the trimmings to make leaf shapes to decorate the top of the pastry, if desired, using the beaten egg to hold them in place. Press the pastry edges against the rim of the dish to seal. Brush the pastry all over with more beaten egg.

Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top of the pie is crisp and golden.

Yield: 6 servings

Flaky Pastry Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1 teaspoon fine salt

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon milk

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.

Make a well in the center and add the rest of the ingredients. Again using your fingertips, mix together to make a smooth dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead two or three times. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

Yield: Enough for one 9-inch diameter, 1 1/4-inch deep tart pan.

Mushroom, Feta and Cherry Tomato Tart

Adapted from “Tart It Up! Sweet & Savory Tarts & Pies,” Eric Lanlard

1 flaky pastry shell for a 9-inch diameter, 1 1/4-inch deep tart pan (see recipe above)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, mixed colors

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

10 ounces mixed portobello mushrooms, sliced

4 eggs

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons snipped chives

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prebake the pastry shell by rolling out the dough and fitting it into the tart pan. Prick bottom with a fork. Chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Cover the dough with a piece of parchment paper. Fill unbaked shell with pie weights or dried, uncooked beans. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the shell is set. Remove the paper and weight and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a roasting pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees, for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to soften slightly. Set aside and leave the oven on.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the garlic and mushrooms and sauté over gentle heat for 10 minutes, turning them occasionally. Pat the mushrooms dry with paper towels, if necessary, and set aside.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, add the feta cheese, and mix well. Stir in the mushrooms and chives, then season with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the baked pastry shell and arrange the roasted tomatoes on top. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden.

Yield: 6 servings

Early Autumn Cornish Pasties

From “Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain”

For the pastry:

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

Sea salt

8 ounces cold unsalted butter

1 large egg, beaten (preferably free-range)

For the filling:

12 ounces skirt steak

1 white onion, peeled

1 white potato, peeled

1 small zucchini

1 small carrot, peeled

7 ounces butternut squash, cut into 1/3-inch cubes

1 whole nutmeg, for grating

Sea salt and white pepper

A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, leaves picked

Olive oil

Pour the flour into a bowl, season it with a pinch of salt, then use your thumbs and forefingers to rub in the butter. Add 3/4 cup of water and use your hands to quickly mix it up. As it comes together, squeeze, hug, and pat it together crudely and imperfectly. Add a splash more water here if need be, but please don’t overwork it.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the steak and the vegetables into 1/3-inch dice, then put into a bowl, finely grate over a quarter of the nutmeg and add a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Finely chop the rosemary and thyme leaves together and add them to the bowl of filling mixture. Drizzle in a little olive oil, then mix well and put aside.

Cut the pastry into 6 equal pieces and roll each one into a ball. Dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with flour, then pat and push each piece of pastry out to the thickness of a quarter, dusting and turning as you go. Repeat until you have 6 rounds roughly 8 inches in diameter. Get a little filling, compact it in your hand, and place it in the middle of one of the pastry rounds, leaving a border around the edge. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg and confidently fold the pastry over the meat and vegetables to make a semicircle. Make 5 more pasties the same way and put them on a baking tray dusted with flour.

Use your thumb to press down and seal the pasties around the edges. Brush the pasties all over with egg wash and bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden.

Yield: 6 pasties