Peconic Dish: Cornish Pasties: A Food with Deep Working-Man Roots
By Alison Boyd
As the local farming season winds down, the humble and healthy rutabaga comes into its own. Also known as swede or turnip, this versatile root originates from Scandinavia and is a cross between a true turnip and a brassica (cabbage family). Both root and leaves are edible, which has made it a valuable part of the northern winter diet for centuries.
Most of our supermarket rutabagas come from Canada and have a thin coating of wax for protection. They are perfectly fine but be sure look for the unwaxed variety at our local farm stands in October and November. There is a lot of eating on the average specimen and they are delicious in soups and stews, roasted with olive oil and mashed with butter and salt and pepper as a side dish.
The Cornish Pasty originated centuries ago with the tin miners of Southwestern England, who needed a cheap, one-dish meal to carry them through their grueling work day. The pasty was a perfect solution. The thick pastry crust made it very portable, added much-needed calories and protected the filling from harsh conditions in the mine.
Traveling to the surface for lunch would have been a time consuming and arduous process, so the miners were able to consume their lunch right where they worked. The convenience of the pasty was not overlooked by other manual workers, and the pasty soon made its way to farm fields and the fishing boats of the Cornish coast.
To this day, the delicious Cornish pasty is still consumed throughout the U.K and just like a fine wine or French cheese, it must adhere to a strict list of ingredients and standards to qualify to be called a Cornish pasty. Unless it was made west of the River Tamar in the beautiful County of Cornwall, it will just have to be called a pasty.
I have taken a few liberties with my recipe. I have added parsley and carrots (you can substitute additional rutabaga), and to moisten it I have added a little stock and butter. The filling will cook nicely in the steam from the vegetables, but I like to add that extra little touch. The recipe needs no more embellishment to preserve the pure simple flavors of this classic dish. My favorite accompaniment is a simple salad of dark leafy greens with a mustard vinaigrette dressing.
4 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
8-10 Tbsp. iced water
Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse twice. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs, with a few larger pieces. With motor running, gradually add the water in a slow stream, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the edges with a plastic spatula, making sure liquid is evenly distributed. As soon as dough starts to form a ball, remove from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. You may need to adjust the amount of water, and the dough should not be sticky. Gently and quickly knead the dough and flatten to form a smooth disc. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
2. Filling & Assembly
1 lb. of Chuck steak cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 cup rutabaga finely diced
½ cup finely diced carrot (from one medium carrot)
1 medium Idaho potato, thinly sliced then diced fine
1 small yellow onion finely minced
2 Tbsp. parsley finely minced
1 egg, lightly beaten.
¼ cup beef or chicken stock
2 Tbsp. softened butter
1 ½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Mix the beef, vegetables and parsley together in a large bowl and season with the salt and pepper. Can be made up to one hour before assembly and refrigerated. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to soften slightly. Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch-thick and cut into six-inch circles, using a small saucer as a guide. Place about 1/2 cup filling on the nearest half of the pastry circle, allowing at least one inch of space from each edge.
Drizzle a tablespoon of stock over the filling and place a small dab of unsalted butter on top of each portion. Brush the outer edges lightly with beaten egg. Fold the unfilled side over the filling and bring the edges together, crimping the dough with a fork to form a tight seal. Cut a small slit to allow steam to vent and brush the surface of the pasty with dough and brush lightly with beaten egg.
Place the pasties on a large baking sheet and place in a 375-degree oven. After 15 minutes reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for a further 20 minutes until the pasties are golden brown and the filling is cooked through. Cool for a few minutes minutes before serving. They are tasty eaten cold, and freeze well.
Alison Boyd-Savage worked in advertising before running a catering business in her native London. After moving to Long Island, she first settled in Bridgehampton, where she worked as a private chef. Five years later, the quiet beauty of the North Fork prompted a move to Southold. On weekends she loves to entertain, and can be found scouting the local farm stands for seasonal produce and visiting the markets for local fish, meat and eggs. Each month, she now shares some of these dishes on the back page of the East End Beacon.