This pie tastes great either warm or cold. Serve it with a fresh salad and with condiments such as pickles, sauerkraut or chutneys. It is probably not a dish for a quick evening meal but is fun to make over the week-end in preparation for a relaxing spring or summer picnic. I used suet for the pastry which works well with the beef but you can use lard or butter or a mixture of all three if you prefer. The meat in this pie derives from beef shin – a relatively cheap cut of meat since unlike veal shin, which is tender and delicious, beef shin is lean, tough and sinewy reflecting the beast’s age and working life. A cut or two of beef shin can be made to good use by turning it into a nutritious and delicious brown stock. The left over meat from the shin is too dry and tasteless for stew but is great when shredded and used for this kind of pie. Precisely because it is lean and tough it is important for the cook to inject some moisture and savouriness to the meat. Season it well with salt, pepper and some thyme. If you don’t have any meat from a beef shin – use what ever meat you feel like – chicken, salmon, smoked mackerel, lamb, sausage meat …
This recipe is suitable for a deep 25 cm pie dish
For the pastry
4 cups of plain white flour
1 cup of suet (shredded) OR
4 tbs. lard
2 tsp. salt
For the filling
1 kg of spinach
1 pot of ricotta
Shredded beef (or any left-over meat you have to hand).
Salt & pepper
For the pastry
In a mixing bowl combine the suet with the flour, salt and pepper. Rub the ingredients together between thumb and fingers until they form fine bread crumbs. Next, bit by bit, add some of the chilled water until the ingredients combine to form a round ball. Suet is drier than lard or butter so it may be useful to add either an egg or some more water or even some lard or butter to act as an aid in bringing flour and fat together in a happy, harmonious partnership. You know the pastry has reached the right consistency when it no longer crumbles between the fingers and when it no longer sticks to the hand in a gooey mess. When you are satisfied with the texture of your pastry leave it in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling.
For the filling
Blanche the spinach following the recipe set out here. When the spinach has been rinsed and squeezed mix it together with the ricotta. Season generously with salt, pepper and nutmeg – it risks tasting too bland otherwise.
In a separate bowl season the shredded beef with salt, pepper and thyme. Given that the meat is dry and does not have much fat to give it added flavour it is important to season the meat generously. If there is any marrow left in the bone be sure to press this out to add to the meat.
When the pastry has chilled sufficiently divide the pastry. ¾ for the base of the pie and ¼ for the top of the pie. Knead the pastry for a short while and then roll it out on a floured surface and place over the top of your generously buttered or oiled pie dish. Blind bake the base for 30-40 mins. until golden brown.
Next begin to layer the pie – first with a layer of the spinach and ricotta, then with a layer of beef, another layer of spinach and ricotta and a final layer of beef. Pour 2-3 ladles of brown stock over the whole and then cover with the pastry lid. Brush the top of the pastry with a beaten egg. Cut a cross in the top of the pastry for the black bird and decorate which ever way your fancy takes you.
Bake it in the oven for a further 30-40 minutes or until the pastry has turned a delicious golden brown.