Now is when the menu changes.
It’s when pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil retires to also-ran status, when the prospect of gravy makes our mouth water.
Foods of fall and winter are all about comfort, about settling in, about spending a bit more time in the kitchen because the tennis nets at the park have been packed up for the season.
It’s time for pot pie.
Time, that is, for really good pot pie – which some people have never experienced, if their experience is limited to most grocery freezer cases. Sure, college lore of the 19-cent pot pie upended into a pot of rice retains a certain nostalgia, and surely helped shift funds to the beer budget.
Convenience is a contemporary argument, but there’s a tipping point between saving time and sitting down to a decent meal.
We’ve tipped in favor of making homemade pot pie, with a crust that’s both flaky and flexible, and a filling that you can customize to your heart’s content as long as you honor the final proportions.
Turkey is our protein of choice, because such leftovers are on the horizon. But with half-breasts more available, you can roast just enough turkey within an hour to make six pies. Swap in chicken, or go vegetarian with more of the pot-pie trinity: potatoes, carrots and peas. Experiment with other vegetables, such as turnips, rutabaga, pearl onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, corn or peppers.
We favor the classic trio, but add a twist and some texture with some crumbled bacon.
We won’t lie – pot pies from start to finish take a little time. The pastry comes together quickly, but must rest in the refrigerator for an hour. The vegetables need to be par-cooked for a few minutes to make sure they’ll cook through in the oven. The gravy is best when you give the onions at least 15 minutes to melt into savory goodness.
If you’re tempted to skip the egg glaze, don’t. It lends the pastry a luscious golden crackle, but also is oddly affirming. Taking the time to paint the whole surface of the pastry with care, instead of a slapdash splash across the top, is what cooking with love is all about.
Since you’ve come this far, cut a few leaf shapes from the dough scraps to make your pies even more appetizing. Painting the leaves with a bit of paprika-tinted egg yolk takes about as long as reading this story, and guarantees an “ooh-ahh” reaction at the table that makes every minute worthwhile.
And this is before your diners have even taken a bite!
Makes enough for six individual pot pies.
Note: This crust is from “The New Midwestern Table” by Amy Thielen. You’ll need only half for 6 individual pot pies, so freeze the remaining dough for a single-crust pie, or future pot pies. (The recipe also makes a 9- to 10-inch double-crust pie of any kind.) Pot pies may be assembled 4 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate until it’s time to bake.
2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut in 16 pieces
1 egg yolk
Generous 1/2 cup milk, or more if needed
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the larger remaining chunks are the size of small peas.
Drop the egg yolk into a liquid measuring cup and add milk until you reach exactly 2/3 cup (you’ll use about 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon). Mix the egg yolk and milk with a fork until combined, then add it to the flour mixture all at once. Mix the dough with a fork until you can gather most of it into a ball. This is most easily done in the bowl, like packing a large snowball; if it seems any drier or more difficult than that, add another tablespoon of milk.
Divide the dough in half and pat each half into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and as long as 2 days. Let dough come to room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling it.
Turkey pot pie filling
Makes enough for six individual pot pies.
Note: A roasted half-breast makes about 3 to 4 cup of diced turkey. You also can substitute chicken, or use more vegetables, just making sure your total ingredients add up to 6 to 7 cups. The bacon is optional, but a nice touch.
3 to 4 cup diced turkey, from leftover turkey or roasted half-breast
2 slices bacon (not thick-cut)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
4 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 cup small red potatoes, cut in roughly 3/4-in. dice
1 cup carrots, peeled, cut in roughly 3/4-in. dice
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Several grinds of freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. paprika
If you’re roasting a half-breast of turkey, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly rub turkey with oil and roast in shallow pan until temperature probe registers 170 degrees, 50-60 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and cut into 3/4 inch dice. If not using immediately, keep refrigerated.
Cook bacon, if using, until crisp. Remove to paper towels to cool, then crumble.
In a large saucepan, melt butter, then add onion and sauté over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.
While the onions are cooking, heat the stock to just boiling. Add potatoes and carrots to the stock and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until slightly tender. Turn off heat. With a slotted spoon, remove vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
To the softened onions, add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
Add the hot stock to the onions and simmer until thick, stirring constantly, about 1 minute.
Stir in salt, pepper and 1/4 cup heavy cream. Add turkey, potatoes, carrots, peas and parsley, stirring to mix well. Check for proper seasoning. Remove from heat.
To assemble pot pies:
Divide the filling among 6 (8-ounce) ovenproof ramekins or straight-sided dishes no more than 4 inches wide. Crumble bacon and divide among the pies. (If there’s any leftover filling, serve it on toast!)
To prepare glaze:
In a small bowl, beat egg yolk with 2 teaspoons cream. Set aside.
Remove crust dough from plastic wrap (remember: you took it out of the refrigerator 30 minutes ago), and place on lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a 10- by 16-inch rectangle. With a knife or pizza cutter, cut six (5-inch) squares. (You’ll use the remaining inch of pastry to make decorative leaves.)
With a small brush or your finger, brush the rim of each bowl with beaten egg yolk, then drape pastry over the filling, pressing gently on rim to seal. Brush the entire surface of pastry with egg glaze.
With a sharp paring knife, cut small leaf shapes from the remaining dough, using the blade to press “veins” into the surface. Arrange 2 or 3 leaves on each pie. Stir paprika into the remaining egg glaze, then paint the leaves with this tinted mixture.
Place pies on a rimmed baking sheet; this will catch any possible drips. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the filling is bubbling hot.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories: 656; Fat: 39 g; Sodium: 1025 mg
Carbohydrates: 44 g; Saturated fat: 23 g; Calcium: 92 mg
Protein: 32 g; Cholesterol: 200 mg; Dietary fiber: 4 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 3 bread/starch, 3 lean meat, 6 fat.