A blog of hopeful, inspired living: cooking & baking & growing & harvesting & preserving & gleaning & eating & sharing food... while bringing positive change to my kitchen and our food system.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Celebrating the Irish

I'm not a big St. Patrick's Day reveler, but I am half Irish and would be happy to celebrate that fact with some dark beer anytime.  With the holiday falling on Thursday during a very busy work week, I had every intention of letting the day pass with a hasty after-work beer toast and a night on the couch.  But that morning as I cleared my in-box I saw a recipe that caused me to pause.  Somewhere, somehow I ended up on Martha Stewart's daily Every Day Food listserve, which diligently sends me a dinner recipe every morning.  I often delete without opening, but am also occasionally interested and inspired by the recipes that come through, which is why I have not unsubsribed.  This particular morning's recipe was for Irish Beef Hand Pies.  Although this did not initially sound appealing to me at all, I returned to the deleted recipe as I remembered the Hand Pie's relative -- the Cornish Pasty.  Traditionally a buttery (or lard-y), flaky crust enveloping steamy roast meat, potatoes and other veggies, the perfect size to hold in your hand. 

While in Cornwall, England back in 1999 I had lots of excellent Pasties.  I was not entirely surprised to read that the Pasty makes up 6% of Cornwall's food economy and was just this year awarded Protected Geographical Status (like Champagne, Parmesan cheese and other regional foods).   The Cornish Pasty's history dates back to the early 1500s and was a miners food -- baked with an extra long crust on one side for easily holding onto with dirty (arsenic covered) hands.  A pasty's filling could stay warm for hours and keep you toasty if you carried it inside your jacket near the body.  A self-contained, filling and practical meal! 

On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon with some friends who were with me in Cornwall, I had a lovely pasty (and delicious house-made pickles... not to mention the beer selection) at Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern.  We were all delighted to see the Pasty very much alive and well closer to home. 

Ok, ok, so I have Martha Stewart to thank for helping conjure up all these food memories and boosting my energy for cooking something different.  Thanks to Martha, I celebrated St. Patty's Day a bit more.

While the Cornish Pasty name is reserved for Cornwall pasties, and there is a ton to read about them, I couldn't find any information on the history of the Hand Pie in Ireland.  Clearly the practical crust packaging works well, and has been adapted in many of parts of the world (samosa, anyone? empanada?).  The filling of beef, cabbage and potatoes seemed Irish enough and it went well with a dark beer.  The difference between the Hand Pie and the Pasty could perhaps be in the crust and shape -- there seems to be less crust for the Irish Hand Pie, and most recipes show a rectangle rather than a half-moon shape.  It could be the way I made mine, but in my memory and images online, the Pasty seems to have a thicker dough. They were delicious, whatever you want to call them.

Dough rolled out thinly
I started with a dough I made at Christmas and had stored in my freezer.  Dough is great that way -- it can be time consuming initially to make, but if you make extra, it freezes well and lasts about 3 months, wrapped with plastic wrap and in a freezer bag.  I've never made a dough with lard, as I find it unappealing... however I noticed lard offered by the local meat seller at the farmers market, which could change my mind.  I use butter, and the flavor worked really well for this recipe.  Here's the pie dough recipe I used.  It includes great photos and directions (FYI: Against the recipe's suggestion, I still use the food processor sometimes).
Hand Pies ready to bake

Filling on top of the dough

One dough round (the equivalent of a pie top or bottom) made four Hand Pies.  I rolled the dough much thinner than I would have for a pie, and used a heaping half cup of filling.  We each ate one an a half Hand Pies.  Had our stomachs not been full of heavy dark beer, we may have eaten two each.

The original Martha recipe makes eight Hand Pies.  I mostly followed Martha Stewart's recipe for the filling in terms of ingredients (except I used fresh thyme and added some fresh diced marjoram).  While I used the same ingredients, I didn't actually measure things.  I just cut up some cabbage and potatoes and it worked out fine.  I had some leftover filling which was great heated up and topped with a poached egg for brunch the next weekend.  I have the sense that you could use just about anything for a filling, as long as it's not to wet.  In the future I'd like to try this with an Indian (and vegetarian) twist on the filling by sauteing onions and garlic with chickpeas and Indian spices.  Or perhaps a desert Hand Pie with cinnamon apple filling.  So versatile.  So YUM. 

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