Beef, Cheese and Tomato Pie – Happy British Pie Week!

It’s British Pie Week!  I almost missed it, hence this recipe coming to you almost halfway through this most hallowed of traditions (est. 2007).  I certainly feel as though pies have become a real mainstay of my little blog here: beef, blue cheese and blackberry; lamb, goat’s cheese and apricot; boxing day pie; devonshire squab pie; and most recently, ‘Peter’s Golf Ball Pie’ for my father in law’s birthday back in November.  Something about a warm, hearty filling encased within layers of delicious, increasingly-flaky pastry just speaks to my very soul.  Perhaps it’s year’s growing up with a Dad who adored a good freezer to oven Captain Birdseye pie, or the many summer holidays I spent getting Steak Bakes from Baker’s Oven (now Gregg’s), or even the year or two I spent working in a wonderful pie shop in Islington.

In any case, I endeavour to ensure that all of my pies are unique.  You don’t need me to tell you how to make a steak and kidney or chicken and mushroom – there are hundreds of recipes for that out there already!  This one, like the others, is something I cooked up in my head as I was drifting off to sleep.  I have been known, on occasion, to use leftover ragu to make a beefy, tomatoey, cheesey ‘bolognese pie,’ and I do recommend it if you find you have leftovers of that ilk yourself!  This was made fresh for purpose, however, and instead utilises large chunks of beef cooked slowly until they soften to melt-in-your-mouth pieces.  You can do the quicker version in a pinch (details below), but I highly recommend taking the time.  The sauce itself could easily be made the night before to speed up the process the following day, and may even allow the flavours more time to develop.

While I’ve made many a pie with cheese before (inspired by Australians visiting the pie shop in Islington), this was the first time I’ve made a pie with a whole flat layer of the stuff directly under the pastry.  The result was incredible.  The lower, soft layers of pastry fused with the cheese to create something not entirely unlike the filling within one of those  party “cheese rolls” (in the style of a sausage roll with pastry, not using bread.)  Something that was part cheese, part pastry, all delicious.  I used pre-sliced smoked applewood for this, which gave the entire thing an even more luxurious flavour.  Just promise me you won’t use cheese-style singles.  They have a place, just not here.

Ingredients – One pie, roughly 23cm diameter – feeds 4.

  • Pre-rolled shortcrust pastry
  • Pre-rolled puff pastry
  • Approx. 400g diced beef (more if you like it really meaty)
  • 1kg passata
  • 3-4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • A few cloves garlic (to taste)
  • A few tsp oil
  • Worcester sauce
  • Vinegar (preferably balsamic)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp each basil and oregano (more if you like)
  • 1 Lemon
  • Cheese (ideally a strong cheddar or smoked applewood) – enough that when sliced to 0.5cm thick it will cover the pie.
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and Pepper

For crushed herby peas

  • Petit pois
  • Fresh basil and mint
  • 1 Lemon
  • Butter
  • Salt

Method

  1. Add a few tsp oil to a deep, oven safe saucepan (not necessary if you have a slow cooker) and heat on high.  Add the diced beef half at a time and brown/seer on all sides.  Transfer beef to a bowl, leaving the oil.
  2. Dice an onion and carrot and add to the pan, reducing the heat.  Sprinkle in a little salt and stir occasionally for 5 minutes until softening with the onions turning translucent.  Add the garlic and herbs and stir well, then the tomato paste.  Cook for a further minute to take off the raw edge.
  3. Return the beef to the mixture and pour in the passata (if you don’t have time for the slow-cooking, half the passata), along with a few tsp each of vinegar and worcester sauce.  Stir through 1tbsp sugar (you may need more later).
  4. Place the lid on the saucepan and transfer to a 120C oven for 4 hours, or a slow cooker on high for 4 hours.  If you’re in a hurry and have halved the passata, simmer for 30 minutes on the stove instead).  Stir occasionally through the process, then remove from the oven and taste for seasoning.  It will likely need a little more salt.
  5. Turn the oven up to 180C.  Now for the pastry – I use pre-rolled shortcrust for the base.  Simply turn the pie dish upside down and gently lay it on the pastry.  Cut a circle roughly 2cm further out from the circumference of the dish and you should have the right size.  Grease the dish, then gently push the shortcrust into it.  Dock with a fork, particularly any air holes, and crimp the side if you wish (lots of ideas for this online, I just press my thumb from the inside out to the pinched finger and thumb of my other hand.  Line the shortcrust with greaseproof paper and weigh down with either ceramic beads, dry rice/pasta or a slightly smaller pie dish.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until just beginning to firm up.
  6. Remove the pastry from the oven and pour in the beef and tomato filling.  Place the sliced cheese in an even layer over the top, then cut a circle out of the puff pastry slightly larger than you think you need.  Place this on top and gently press to the inside rim of the shortcrust to partially seal – if it’s too large, just press a little harder til it looks mostly even.  I scored diamonds on mine and used a little spare pastry to cut out leaves and a tomato, but this is optional.  Less optional is cutting two holes in the middle to allow the steam out.
  7. Whisk an egg in a separate bowl with a little salt and more dried herbs, then use a pastry brush to paint over the top of the puff pastry.  Place in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown to your liking.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving, or the filling will be too hot, liquidy and just fall out.
  8. For the herby peas – boil the peas until done and drain, then add a few chopped leaves of mint and basil along with a knob of butter, a sprinkling of salt and the juice of a lemon.  Gently mash a bit with a potato masher then serve. 

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