The extraordinary three course pie supper

To welcome in British Pie Week I decided to fulfil one of my lifelong cuisine based ambitions – A three course Sunday supper consisting only of pie. I realise this may seem like a slightly odd ambition to most people. I mean, learning now to bake a croissant, make your own fresh pasta, bake a three tier cake – all these are wholly more sensible and probably useful but a three course pie supper it was for me. The pie is such a versatile dish really – it was in the name of science that I test this theory.

Now of course we all know that British Pie Week is entirely an invention of marketing. Other such culinary celebrations include British Sausage Week, Love Chip Week, Bacon Connoisseurs' Week… are you seeing a trend? I’m pretty sure it’s a PR company that ordains these things but if it inspires you to try a new recipe or simply enjoy a big social meal with friends and family there are worse things in the world really, aren’t there?

Pie was my aim, and in a vain attempt to assert some authority on proceedings I went in search of a definition. Unfortunately I could only find Wiki and Collins.

Wiki says: pie dish baked in pastry-lined pan often with a pastry top.

Collins says: pie n 1 a sweet or savoury filling baked in pastry.

I know this doesn’t exactly assert the authority I was hoping for but it’s a start. I do however realise there is a bone of contention over whether pies need a bottom or not. I personally prefer a pastry bottom on my pies – it’s something about the juices combining with the glutinous dough that delights me. The discussion around the supper table was that they were perhaps wholly unnecessary ‘wasted calories’, that a pie can be just as enjoyable without a bottom as long as it has a top. As you might expect all of the pies featured on the three pie supper menu had bottoms and tops.

The other important consideration was pastry. Filo, puff, shortcrust, oil based, water based – it’s a whole world of decision making and that’s without bringing potato into the equation. As I enjoy pretty much all pastries I tried to fit as many variations into the menu as possible. Two homemade and two shop brought.

Accordingly the menu developed as follows:

1st Pie– Salmon or King Oyster (eryngii) filo w/ caper butter

2nd Pie – Torta Pasqualina (c/o Helen Graves of Food Stories) +  Vegemite, Beef and Ale Pie (c/o Katie Quinn Davies of What Kate Ate )

3rd Pie - Chocolate Hazelnut Pithiver (c/o Delicious Magazine April issue)

First pie – This course I found the hardest to choose. Knowing what was to follow I didn’t want anything too heavy but the pie had to be something to get the tastebuds excited. Filo and salmon was the conclusion, a small nod to an all-time fav, the Fish Pie. Baked in caper butter and enveloped lovingly in filo, it perhaps wasn’t what most would recognise as pie but it did conform to the rules of play. For the vegetarian I swapped out the salmon for King Oyster mushroom pre-fried in a little butter. Both served with a squeeze of lemon, it had tummy’s grumbling for more!

Second pie – As an Australian it would be impossible to host a supper devoted to pies and not include the typical steak, mushroom, ale option. As soon as I saw Katie Quinn Davies, of What Kate Ate, Rustic Beef and Ale pie I was in love. And for bonus points it included Vegemite! The overall result was delicious even if I underestimated the seasoning because of the vegemite factor. I subbed in Hot Water Pastry for the recipe based puff. I really wanted that stand alone effect you get with pork pies.

Second pie (veg option) – Veg pie can be a bit of a tough one I’ve found although the Canteen cookbook does have some excellent options including, cheddar and shallot and an excellent root vegetable version. They have a recipe for Summer Tomato and Basil I am dying to try when it finally gets to picnic weather. When I saw Helen Graves, of Food Stories, Mighty Pie I had to try it. Ricotta (I did the more traditional version) and spinach are a classic combination but the addition of artichoke really gave it the extra oomph it needed. Like most egg dominant pies it took just that little bit of extra time in the oven but the result was tasty and satisfyingly pie-y. The most rewarding part of cooking this pie however was the pastry. Those not keen on kneading would probably disagree with me but the olive oil based pastry had the firm, cool, smooth texture of marble (without the hardness obviously).

Third and final pie – Obviously we were full to the gills by this point. But as I’d pre-baked the dessert pie and had it sitting on the sideboard when my pie-eaters arrived it could not and would not go by the wayside. I spied this recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Pithivier in the April issue of Delicious Magazine. Unbeknownst to me this puffy pie’s origins lie in France, although the provenience of the combination of dark chocolate, hazelnut and rum for the filling is a little unsure. Despite this the Pithivier style of flat pie works well as a vehicle for this rich and solid filling. Served slightly warm with the suggested whipped cream it was declared a “Pieumph” by my cousin and fellow pie baker and eater Angela.

Overall I would have to say I would not recommend a three course pie supper on a regular basis but what the night did prove was the combination of pastry and filling does work exceedingly well. As a once a year celebration why not? And if you don’t fancy constructing one there are plenty of places to indulge this week – or any week!