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Pot pie is filling, feeds a crowd

Vegetable Pot Pie is stuffed with fall flavors and makes a great Halloween dish whether you’re having friends over or greeting the little ghouls at the door. (LORIE HUTSON Special to The Spokesman-Review)

Whether you’ll be greeting the little ghouls and princesses at the door, or joining them as they haunt the neighborhoods for candy, dinner on Halloween needs to be easy and hearty.

We’ll often throw chili into the slow cooker or grab a take-and-bake pizza. This fall, we’ve been experimenting with the flavors in a favorite recipe for Chicken Pot Pie with Leeks and Wild Mushrooms.

This much-loved recipe arrived at our door more than 12 years ago, when a friend who worked with us at The Spokesman-Review delivered it hot and ready to eat after another kind of delivery – the birth of our oldest son. During the intervening years, we’ve done the same for others in our life with new babies – including a delivery last week to a friend from nursing school. The photocopied pages are creased and grease-stained, so I no longer remember where the recipe originated.

Reminded of how much we loved the recipe, I experimented with a vegetarian version this week. I didn’t have time to perfect a gluten-free version of the crust, but substituting a gluten-free pie crust might work. When I’m pinched for time, I use one of the ready-made pie crusts in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

The earthy flavors offered by wild mushrooms and leeks, along with the addition of tarragon, elevate this recipe beyond traditional pot pies. Take care not to add too much tarragon or the anise-like flavor can overpower.

I added more mushrooms and substituted sweet potatoes in place of the meat to make a vegetarian pot pie. Be sure to use vegetable broth as well. Dice the sweet potatoes, sauté them with the carrots and leeks so they will be cooked through when the pie is done. I added a bit of vegetable broth to the pan to help with the cooking and to cut the butter in the recipe.

I’m sharing the original recipe – meat and all – but it turned out beautifully without chicken. Although it calls for heavy cream, I’ve made it with half and half, as well as fat-free half and half.

Since you’ll have your hands full of candy on Halloween, make this recipe ahead. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator one day ahead. Bring it out of the fridge about an hour before baking to allow it to come to room temperature. Brush with egg just before baking.

Chicken Pot Pie with Leeks and Wild Mushrooms

For the shortcrust pastry dough:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold lard, vegetable shortening or butter, cut into 10 pieces

For the pie filling:

1/2 pound of mushrooms

1 cup fresh peas, or thawed frozen peas

5 to 7 tablespoons butter

2 carrots, thinly sliced

2 leeks, white and pale green parts, washed and thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs or chicken breast, boned and skinned (substitute 1 1/2 cups peeled and diced sweet potato, if desired)

Freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream, half and half or fat-free half and half

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried

1 large egg yolk

Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add lard, shortening or butter and toss to coat with flour. Work together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons cold water over mixture and gather into a ball. If dough seems too dry, add an additional tablespoon cold water and blend well.

Form dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days. Remove from refrigerator about 10 minutes before rolling.

Wipe mushrooms with paper towels to remove any dirt and slice.

If using fresh peas, place in a saucepan of boiling water to blanch for 2 minutes; then drain and place peas or thawed frozen peas in a 10 or 11 inch round or square baking dish (2 1/2 to 3 quart capacity).

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until they are tender and lightly browned. Remove mushrooms with a slotted spoon and place in baking dish.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the remaining butter and add carrots, leeks (and sweet potatoes, if using) and cook over low heat, stirring once or twice to prevent burning, for about 10 minutes. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in baking dish.

Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place in skilled and sauté over medium-high heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until browned and almost cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to baking dish.

About 2 tablespoons of fat should remain in pan. If not, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir flour into fat and cook over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 2 minutes. Gradually stir in the stock and cream and simmer, stirring and scraping up any brown bits, for about 5 minutes or until sauce is smooth and thick.

Pour sauce into baking dish and stir gently to blend with other ingredients. Stir in parsley and tarragon. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry out into a 12-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Place over baking dish and trim so that only about 1/2 inch extends past rim. Fold pastry under, then pinch and crimp to form a border that sits on the rim of the baking dish. Gather and roll scraps and cut out a small chicken or other shapes to decorate the top of the pie, if desired. Cut several slashes in top of crust to allow steam to escape.

In a small bowl, beat egg yolk with 2 teaspoons water and brush this glaze over top and border of the pie.

Place in center of oven, immediately reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is a rich golden brown and filling is bubbling.

Serve hot.

Yield: 6 servings