Sunday, 10 May 2015

Lamb and Rhubarb Pasties

So we all know by now how I enjoy experimenting with new and unusual recipes and surprising people with unexpected tastes, but I anticipate this recipe, which I personally think is genius, will at the very least, raise some eyebrows. It is from another of my favourite River Cottage cookbooks, Fruit Everyday, and is, "an echo of the traditional Cornish pasties eaten by tin-miners that had meat at one end and jam or fruit at the other," according to Hugh F-W. I bought this book quite some time ago now, when it was originally out in the shops, and this was a recipe that immediately struck me for it's originality (I'm aware of the contradiction in that statement given the recipe's inspiration.) I made these for dinner earlier in the week, which was the second time I've cooked them, but last time I made them, I hadn't been able to source the rhubarb so used a different fruit which has escaped my memory for the time being.

Now last time I made these, there were a couple of small issues which came to light, mainly concerning the peculiarity of one pastry containing both the main course and pudding. Poor husb just could not get his head round it, and requested, should I ever make them again, that a pastry "barrier" be inserted between the meat and the fruit so as to indicate where one ends and the other begins. I quickly laughed this comment away, but when it came to making them again, I did recall this request and acknowledged the unfairness on my part of foisting these experimental dishes upon my family but not taking into account their preferences. So this time a barrier was included. Look out towards the end for the big faux-pas, which I had also made the previous time...

One of the reasons I love this recipe, and many others, is for its simplicity and the way a minimum of ingredients work together to make something utterly delicious. This begins with the mouth-watering shortcrust pastry. The recipe in the book makes four pasties if you use a side plate as a template. As we are two adults and two children, I slightly altered the amounts, to make husb's and mine slightly larger than that by about one centimetre all the way round, and the boys' one the size of the plate.

Making pastry is really so easy. I've always been led to believe it is an elusive skill, but I've made shortcrust a lot lately and I've found the recipes I've used have been fantastic and the pastry has been easy to handle and holds together excellently. In the case of both recipes I've used for shortcrust however, I've had to add significantly more liquid than specified (I've used this River Cottage recipe and also Ruby Tandoh's shortcrust recipe in her delicious book, Crumb).

The ingredients for making pastry are so simple, I am always taken aback at how something so bland seeming can taste so delicious. Because I slightly appropriated the amounts for this recipe, I will share them with you.

350g plain flour
180g cold unsalted butter, cubed
pinch of salt
Approx. 75-80 ml cold milk

Put the flour and salt in a bowl and mix together with a small whisk or large spoon, then add the cubed butter and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Add most of the milk but leave about 15ml in the jug whilst you combine the rest with the dry ingredients. The best tool for this is a flat, blunt knife; a butter knife is ideal. Cut into the flour and milk mixture and bring both together, and if you're struggling to bring the last crumbs into the dough which has formed, add the remaining milk little by little, using your hands to bring the last few crumbs in. You don't want the dough to be wet. It should look like this...

 Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Here is a visual demonstration of what I said above, about this recipe being so simple yet so delicious: look how few ingredients go into the pasty filling.

The savoury side simply contains lamb, diced quite small (2ish cm) an onion, a couple of small potatoes, about 30g melted butter and a splash of Lea and Perrins, the sweet side comprising chopped rhubarb and a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar.

I prepared the sweet side first just to allow the sugar and rhubard to mingle for a little longer and develop a bit of flavour.

The savoury ingredients are also added to a bowl, with no prior preparation (no need to par-boil these teeny potato cubes!) other than dicing the lamb, potatoes and onion. The butter needs to be melted and added to the meat and vegetables and a few splashes of worcestershire sauce added, along with a couple of generous grindings of salt and pepper.

Now the pastry can be removed from the fridge (it's actually best to do this a little bit before you need to work with it if it's been in for longer than an hour or so.)

Place on a floured surface, flour your rolling pin and prepare to roll! The pastry needs to be aproximately 4mm thick before being cut.

If you, like me, have a healthy appetite, rest assured that even if you don't enlarge the circumference of your pastry, it will be plenty big enough!

The brilliant thing about this pastry is the way it will roll back into itself after each plate has been cut out, so the minimum possible is wasted. If you fold it in such a way that it is even, as here...

 After first plate

After second plate

Third plate

As you can see, nearly all the pastry has been used, and there is a little spare should you need to do any patching up once your pasties are assembled. This is where my unusually long worktop once again comes in handy - pasty assembly line!

I do like to pile on the ingredients, as you can see, which can lead to angular protrusions of potato and rhubarb through the pastry. However, as I said earlier, any spare pastry you may have leftover can be used to patch up these holes, as the eggwash which is applied to the pastry very satisfactorially binds the pastry pieces together. The eggwash consists simply of one egg beaten with a splash of milk, which is also applied to the circumference of the flat circles now, before the edges are pressed together.

Once the pasties are fully assembled, they are placed on a baking tray and patched up, if necessary (my patches can be seen on the left and middle pasties) before being painted with eggwash. The patches will smooth over nicely.

Now this is where careful attention needs to be paid as to which end is which, because chopped rosemary is sprinkled on the savoury lamb and and caster sugar on the sweet rhubarb, before they are placed in the oven at 170C Fan for 35-40 minutes. You will see why such care is needed as you read on...

When they come out of the oven, they should look rather a lot like this...

The smaller pasty on the right was for the boys to share. I simply cut it lengthways down the middle. You could easily make two much smaller, individual pasties as the amount of pastry yielded from the recipe above would be plenty if you were to use the size plate down from a side plate (now what is that called?) or any other circular "thing" you may have to hand which you feel would work.

There's no need to be concerned about presentation with this meal, simply put it on a plate and serve. However, it also lends itself to being presented perhaps in some sort of newspaper or those thin sheets they use in fish and chip shops which are like newspaper but without the print, if you wanted to make something more of the recipe's roots. These pasties would also be ideal to take on a picnic or even on a hike. They would store well wrapped in foil and eaten at the top of a mountain, welcome sustenance after a gruelling trek!

So we all sat down happily to dinner, me last of all, as usual. I picked up my cutlery, ready to make the first slice, when I heard from across the table, "Eurgh no! You've put the sugar on the savory side! AGAIN!" Yes, thats right readers, I had made the dreaded mistake, can you believe for the second time, of putting the savory and sweet toppings on the wrong sides of the top of the pasties. And yes, it was the same for each of them. I must have inadvertently spun the pasties around as I was placing them on the baking tray, causing me to add the toppings on the wrong sides. I tried to be so careful, and husb was not impressed. He bears very well with my experimental cooking, but sometimes it all gets a bit too much and he wishes he had a cooked-from-frozen lamb burger, some boiled frozen mixed veg and a handful of boiled potatoes in front of him instead (not going to happen I'm afraid!) Time for some urgent reconstructive surgery. I sliced the top off, cut it in half, and placed the correctly topped halves on the correct sides. This did mean the shapes were unfortunately inverted, but this was not a problem to me (husb on the other hand...) but it was easily resolved and added a kind of suspenseful drama to dinner time, not that we need more drama with two small boys giving us all the drama we could possibly need...


The boys mainly enjoyed this meal, particularly the rhubarb end. The little one enjoyed picking out the potato by hand and eating it, though the pastry was a bit too much for him and he did leave rather a lot.

It really is such a treat when one realises the savoury end has been finished and the sweet end can be started. I like to neaten up all the edges and make sure all the crumbs on the plate have been munched before taking the first slice of rhubarb. It's also nice to wash down the lamb with a swig of whatever drink takes your fancy. My drink of choice is...(drumroll please)... water! Always! Oh, apart from when my MIL manages to persuade me to have a glass of wine. 

 I know I keep raving about this, but I cannot emphasise how delicious this simple rhubarb and sugar combination is. And the sugar topping on this end of the pastry adds a different taste and emphasises the versatility of this shortcrust pastry recipe. I suppose you could have a jug of cream or custard on the table for when this end of the pasty is reached, although, in my opinion, it would detract from the authenticity of the recipe.

So, if you are enticed by this recipe and think it's a fantastic idea (as did a friend whom I was telling about it earlier today) I suggest you run it past your lucky recipients beforehand, as they may have an aversion to the idea of sweet and savoury encased inside one pasty, and may wish to request full savoury, or perhaps an internal pastry barrier to separate the fillings! But if you know they won't be fussy, or simply don't care (!) go ahead and make them without ceremony and place on the table, ready to observe the looks of surprise, followed by either admiration or disgust! I have decided, however, that I perhaps need to appreciate that my husband is not as adventurous as me when it comes to what we eat for dinner at home (not when eating out; he's probably more adventurous than me then, ironically) and take that into account when experimenting. I can think of several male friends who, if they read this, would be saying, "Too right you need to take it into account; that pasty is a disgusting idea!" Who said cooking was a dull duty to be performed out of necessity? 

I hope this post has inspired you to try something a little out of the ordinary. If you do, share it on the "Your Food Photos" album on the Facebook page. I love to see people being inspired to embrace the joy their kitchen can hold, rather than viewing it as a place in which they must spend time out of necessity rather than desire. 

Happy (experimental) cooking!

xxx Sam

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