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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Cornish man in possession of a great hunger must be in search of a pasty.”
Ah, yes. One of the lesser known Jane Austen quotes.
Actually, this might be a Trixpin one.
But surely, when it comes to food, there is very little that can get between a man and his pastry. Maybe the French men are hooked on croissants, the Turkish on their baklava, the Chinese on pineapple buns, but in this little patch of England that is Cornwall, the pasty is our go-to.
I came to Cornwall 7 years ago and it’s true to say that before that time, pasties hadn’t featured much on my agenda. But I quickly found myself working in a little shop that was highly pasty-orientated, and in the summer when the tourists came in we could hardly make enough of them. The recipes were several decades old and to err from the path of precision was to do great wrong indeed. But I am no pasty purist and since leaving that great institution I have found my own way in the world of stuffed pastry …
Some of the best pasty shops in Cornwall don’t just stick to the same old steak and veg, cheese and onion, chicken and leek. They add mint to their lamb along with rich salty feta, they sprinkle fennel seeds atop their pork and green olives, they pimp up the veg option with artichoke hearts and tapenade and micro basil. It’s great fun to experiment, not only varying the filling but the pastry too – plain or wholemeal, flaky or shortcrust, herby or seeded. I’ve done my fair share of going crazy with this historically practical foodstuff.
But the other day I realised it had been some time since I made my last pasty and in a sudden desire to do things simply, I returned to my roots (with the help of a certain Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall whose recipe jumped so enthusiastically out at me from the pages of his “River Cottage Veg Every Day!”). Roots quite literally, as they headline this recipe.
Don’t be put off by the quantity of seasoning – a pasty needs to be strong and fragrant and have a real punch of pepper. And feel free to vary the vegetables, but I’d keep away from soft, overly sweet ones such as squash or peppers for this particular recipe. Try instead turnips, celeriac, possibly even mooli if you’re that way inclined.
Oh, and by happy coincidence I’ve only gone and discovered that today is St Piran’s Day, the national day of Cornwall. What better excuse to make a pasty or two?
Makes about 15 half-sized pasties, 6-8 larger ones
About 675g puff pastry OR
For the rough puff pastry
375g plain flour
2 pinches of salt
225g butter, diced
For the filling
150g onion (about 1 medium-large onion)
75g medium or strong Cheddar cheese, grated
Nice sized bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1.5 level tsps vegetable stock/bouillon powder
1tsp finely ground black pepper
1 large pinch of salt
60g butter or margarine, melted
1 egg yolk
50 ml milk
Begin by making your pastry following the instructions in this recipe (the lard has been replaced by butter here so ignore references to it), but using about 160ml of water to bind the dough. Whilst resting in between turns, prepare the filling.
Peel and chop the potatoes, carrots and swede in 2cm dice (that’s pretty small and it’s easy to overestimate). Place in a large bowl and add the cheese, parsley and seasoning. Stir well.
Finally stir in the melted butter to coat the mixture. Set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to the thickness of a 50p piece for small pasties (if you make larger ones, the pastry can be a little thicker). Use a sharp knife to cut around a plate or round ice cream tub lid (or anything really, as long as it’s clean) of about 13cm diameter. Cut as many rounds as you can from the sheet of pastry. Pile up the offcuts so that the layers of puff aren’t lost.
Stir up the vegetable mixture again to coat them in some of the juices that have been drawn out by the addition of salt. Place heaped tablespoonfuls of the filling into the centre of the pastry rounds, brush around the edges with a little water and bring two opposite edges up together. Press them firmly to seal and then crimp or flute as desired.
Re-roll the remaining pastry, cut and fill until either the pastry of filling is all used up. Place the pasties on greased baking sheets. You can freeze the pasties at this stage.
To glaze, beat together the eggs yolk and milk and coat the pasties in the mix.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180 C degrees fan (200 C degrees conventional oven) for about 40 minutes, checking for a golden brown colour and turning the oven down to 170 C fan (190 C conventional) if they are getting too dark.
Eat them straight away, or cool on a wire rack. They can be frozen.