This time of year is one of my favourites, just as everything is starting to spring & sprout in the garden, refreshing & regenerating. Buds are beginning to pop up, soon to bloom into beautiful blossoms, while the trees are turning green & growing again. The lovely Spring sunshine seems to be a bit shy this week, making it difficult to get out into the garden, so I’ve been practising my sugar skills & learning a few new techniques. Despite the lack of sunshine this week, I’ve still managed to get some sparkle in the form of sugar & edible glitter though!
Having made a warren full of baby bunnies over Easter, I was inspired by the pretty pale pink blossom trees of Spring to create a chocolate tree. If you’ve been following me on social media, you will know I’ve been excitedly sharing various pictures of my progress. It was something I needed to try & although it took me five days from start to finish, I’m really pleased with the results, plus I’ve had some fabulous feedback – thank you so much to all you kind, lovely people (you know who you are!). All I’ll say is that I know how Richard Dreyfuss felt about his mashed potato mountain in Close Encounters!
Most of you know by now that I like to prepare some meals for the freezer, then we can have our own ready-meals without any fuss or faff (great for when you’re working late & can’t be bothered to cook). As it’s still a bit chilly outside, my Chicken & Leek Pie is just perfect for this inbetween weather & the bright vegetables will add some colour to chilly evenings. Leeks are a bit under-rated & have always struck me as rather pretty. With their slender bundles of long, frond-like leaves, tightly packed & tall, they go from being the darkest emerald green at one end to the palest, apple-flesh green at the roots. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, but we tend to just boil them until bland, then spend the whole meal pushing them around a plate & not eating them. What a waste!
This pie recipe uses the delicate flavour of the leek to enhance the other ingredients, without over-powering any of them, all crowned with a melt-in-the-mouth buttery pastry crust. There’s enough for six generous portions here (or eight regular ones, depending on how hungry you are), plus it freezes very well. Ready to have a go? Hands washed & aprons on!
What you need:
2 Carrots (or a few small ones)
2 Chicken Breasts, skinned, trimmed & sliced into 1 inch pieces
150g Gorgonzola Dolce or soft Danish Blue Cheese
2oz Salted Butter
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2oz Plain Flour
Freshly ground Black Pepper
For the Pastry:
4oz Salted Butter (softened at room temperature)
12oz Self-Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
2 large Eggs
A little milk (approx 2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons Milk (for brushing on)
What to do:
Pre-heat the oven to 200*C. Prepare your leeks by rinsing them upsidedown (root up, dark leaves down), so that any dirt will be washed away. Pat them dry on a clean tea towel, then trim the roots from the bottom. Chop into slices, about the thickness of your little finger. Leave the tough, dark green leaves (they can go in the compost).
Peel, top & tail the carrots & parsnips. Chop into bite-sized slices (I usually cut into half, then slice). Nothing needs to be perfect here, just get chopping.
Put the leeks, carrots & parsnips in a saucepan, cover with just enough boiling water from the kettle & par-boil for about 5-8 minutes until softened but still firm – do not add salt or they will go soggy. Strain & leave to one side. Keep the liquid & freeze it to make soups or gravy (homemade vegetable stock tastes so much nicer than a cube!).
While the veg are cooking, heat the butter & olive oil in a large frying pan or skillet, until combined. Add the chicken to the frying pan & stir fry well, coating it in the beautiful buttery oil & cooking until opaque. Turn down the heat.
Sprinkle the flour on top & stir thoroughly, ensuring all the chicken is coated well. The chicken will become clumpy, the oil & butter mixture will cook the flour, basically making a roux in the frying pan. This is going to make your pie filling more solid (making it easier to slice up later).
Break up the Gorgonzola Dolce or Danish Blue cheese into pieces & dot around the pan, add the strained leeks, carrots & parsnips. Stir everything gently until thoroughly mixed. Season with a little freshly ground black pepper (you won’t need any extra salt, as there’s salt already in the butter & Gorgonzola).
Tip everything into a large pie dish (or individual ones if you like) & spread evenly. Set to one side while you make the pastry.
In a large mixing bowl, tip the flour, butter & egg. Mix everything together into a soft dough – if it’s a bit too firm, add a little milk or water to make it more pliable.
On a lightly floured worktop, roll out your pastry until about half a centimetre thick & slightly bigger than your pie dish (about a couple of inches all around).
Dip your fingers in a cup of water & run them around the edge of the pie dish – this will act as a sort of glue to bind your pastry crust to the dish & help stop leaking (it’s no guarantee, but it does help).
Gently lay the pastry over your rolling pin & lift carefully onto your pie dish. Lay it loosely on top. Now I like a good crust on a pie & pastry has a habit of shrinking while it’s cooking, so you need to make sure there is no gap between pastry & filling. Tuck the edges right down in all the corners & edges, squishing & pressing the sides onto the damp pie dish edge. Make a pattern with your fingertips or a fork handle, then prick a few holes across the top of the pie to allow any steam to escape.
Brush lightly all over with milk to give the pastry a nice gloss while it’s cooking. If you want to decorate with leaves & shapes like I’ve done here, you can add the shapes now you’ve brushed it with milk (so they will stick). Once you’ve finished decorating it, simply brush everything you’ve added with a little milk. This pastry will puff up & start to grow, so you need to work quickly here (it will rise when cooked too).
Bake in the centre of the oven for about 20-25 minutes, until the pastry has gone all golden & crisp (test with a sharp knife & it should be firm).
When it’s ready, get everyone around the table & serve slabs of your pie with a handful of homemade chips, or roasted potatoes, & a huge green salad. Any leftovers will freeze nicely or you can cut it into slices, wrapped individually for lazy lunches or picnics.
So when you’re looking for something new to try, spring a leek (or two)! Stay hungry 😉 A x