Monday, October 17, 2011

Homemade Pasties Made With Homegrown Vegetables

       Food for the body as well as food for the mind: that's what one of the organizers of my basic Master Gardener class called for. The class was held once a week, for four hours. We were encouraged to help provide edibles to keep our strength up during the training. Many people came directly from work. There were lots of cookies and nibbles, but few people had the time to prepare much more, especially dishes with protein. I volunteered to provide pasties.  I was told by several people that they had eaten pasties before and not been impressed.  My recipe changed their attitude.  
Pasties fresh from the oven, in jellyroll pan.
       I met my spouse at Michigan Technological University, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where signs advertising pasties are a common sight.  My father-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law's spouse also attended Mich Tech so it's not surprising that my mother-in-law had a pasty recipe. This is basically her recipe, personalized by me.
       I don't recall ever actually seeing a written recipe.  It was more "cut up the five main ingredients, mix them, encase them in pie crust and bake."  That works for me; that's the way I cook a lot of dishes; but for this blog I measured and weighed those ingredients so I could give meaningful directions.  Before I start that, though, I'd like to point out that a pasty can be made from nearly any grade of beef or any variety of meat, or even with no meat.  I've used pork, chicken, turkey, and stew meat, or whatever's on sale or cheapest.  I suppose ground meat would work okay, though the idea doesn't appeal to me.  I've made vegetarian pasties with asparagus instead of animal protein.  Whatever meat you use, you'll be delighted with how moist and tasty a pasty is when made with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. 
      When I make pasties, I generally make extra to freeze.  Oven-ready frozen pasties are the perfect answer to what's for dinner? when I don't have time or am too tired to fix a meal from scratch.  The amounts given here make three dinner-sized pasties, each with about one and a quarter cups of filling.  Size is another thing you can adjust to fit your own family's appetites.
Meat Pasties:   One cup (1/2 pound meat), cut into small pieces    
                       3/4 cup potato (5 oz), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
                       1/2 cup carrot ((7 oz), cut into smaller pieces
                       1/3 cup rutabaga (2 oz), cut into small pieces
                       1/3 cup onion (2 oz), cut into really small pieces
       You may laugh (or groan) at the "small pieces" but small helps the flavors meld and makes for much tastier pasties.
        In a bowl, mix everything well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add herbs if desired.  I don't add any to beef pasties, but sage with pork and garlic, parsley, and paprika, for example, are good with poultry.      
       Prepare pie crust.
Pie Crust:   In a bowl, mix 1/3 teaspoon salt with one cup all purpose flour.  Cut in 1/3 cup shortening.  Stir in about 1/3 cup cold water.  I like my dough a little on the sticky/soggy side.  Too little water makes for hard-to-work, dry crust.  If your dough seems too wet to handle, let it sit for a few minutes.  The flour will absorb the extra moisture.    
       Make a ball using a little less than 1/2 cup (about 4 oz) of dough.  Spread some flour on your work surface.  Flatten the ball a little in the flour.  Turn the dough over to repeat the process for the other side.  Sprinkle more flour if needed.  Roll the dough into an 8x12 oval.  Place 1/3 of the meat/veggie mix at the closer end of the oval.  Wet you fingers and run them over the dough around the mixture, except the back side.  This will help seal the dough.  Pull the far end of the oval toward you, over the filling.  With your other hand, gently roll the whole thing toward you to firm up the back of the pasty.  Trim the raw edges, leaving about an inch of both top and bottom crust.  Roll the edges toward the center, pressing the two layers of crust together to create a seal.
       Place the pasties on a lightly greased shallow pan.  If you use a cookie sheet, put the pasties on aluminum foil with the foil edges crimped up to catch escaping juices.  Bake at 425 for fifteen minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and bake for about 25 minutes more, or until inside of pasty reaches a temperature safe for the meat you're using.  (Yes, an instant food thermometer is really handy for this.)
       Serve hot, or cool, package and freeze.  If you plan to freeze, loosen the pasty in the pan while it's still warm.  If you wait until it's cool, you'll have a fight on your hands if juices have escaped.  If you package it before it's cool, it will fall apart as you work.  You can freeze the pasties raw if you haven't used frozen food in their preparation.  To reheat, use a conventional oven at 375 degrees for about forty minutes.  If you microwave, you'll get a soggy crust.
       Don't throw out extra pie crust.  If there's enough, you can line a pie pan for a single crust pie or a quiche, cover and refrigerate, but use within a day or two.  Or do what my grandma used to do: roll the crust out, cut into squares, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and bake at 425 for a few minutes on a cookie sheet.  We used to eat these as they came out of the oven; now I wonder how they'd taste with a dab of jam on the warm square.
       Now comes the question of whether or not to top your pasty with catsup.  To my mind, doing so is an insult to the cook.  A good pasty is moist and tasty enough without drowning it with another flavor.  I hear that long ago workers carried this meal to work and heated it on a shovel over a fire.  I doubt they used catsup.  But (sigh) most people insist on it now.  Some non-traditionalists even opt for gravy or cheese.  My husband says the members of his American Legion post almost lynched the cook who suggested cheese on pasties at one of their dinner meetings. 
        When my daughter was near delivery time for her last child, she was still living with her mother-in-law.  She didn't need me to come help with the kids; instead, she asked for a freezer full of pasties to ease the burden of preparing meals.  Even the then-two-year-old could eat this meal without help from Mom, and it was a food the children were familiar with and liked.
        I realize I've included some really basic methodology here.  My intent isn't to insult you if you're an accomplished cook, but to help those who fear working with pie crust. 
        Somehow it doesn't seem appropriate to wish bon appetit for a meal suited to heating on a shovel, but, well, bon appetit.      

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