In the history of low-calorie, low-fat food options few have ever come up with a healthy version of the pie.
It seems the ultimate comfort food simply cannot be marketed as a diet-friendly option.
But we shouldn’t worry about that, says Chichester cook and author Rosemary Moon, and be happy to tuck into the odd pie with gusto rather than guilt.
‘I love a pie but I’m trying to lose weight so it’s an occasional treat. But it’s a lovely thing to have in the winter, perhaps after you’ve been for a long walk,’ she says.
‘The key is exercise, I think. We’ve become obsessed with how much fat is in our diets, but that’s because we lead such sedentary lifestyles.’
That isn’t to say the pie is simply a calorific treat. It makes for a nutritionally-packed meal too.
‘Load it with lovely vegetables,’ advises Rosemary.
‘You can have beef and celeriac, something like that. I recently made a lamb pie with squash. There are a lot of options but the trick is to have about three-quarters made up of different kinds of veg.’
Of course the key ingredient is the pastry and for a decent pie, you don’t want to scrimp on that.
But Rosemary says the golden rule is to only have pastry on the top.
‘If you compare the traditional British pie with something like quiche, with all its eggs, cheese and cream, it’s actually not that bad. It’s when you see the kinds that people snack on, surrounded with pastry, that you see the calories mounting up.’
The great news for those who prefer home cooking is that ready-made pastry has really raised its game in recent years.
‘Years and years ago, the products in the shops weren’t very good. But there have been great improvements,’ says Rosemary.
‘I can think of very few of my peers and colleagues who make their own puff.
‘Shortcrust maybe, but if you’re in a hurry ready-made is an option.’
But Rosemary has some dislikes concerning modern pie-making.
‘I hate it when you go into a pub and have a flaky pastry topping simply perched on the filling and they clearly haven’t been cooked together.
‘You shouldn’t let the filling soak the pastry. You can use a pie funnel to keep it raised.’
Tasty cheese and potato pie is great winter warmer
5kg floury potatoes, peeled and sliced
500g mixed mushrooms (field, oyster, chestnut)
5 shallots, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
100ml double cream
2tbsp finely chopped parsley
200g fontina, taleggio or Gruyere cheese, cut into lumps
Sea salt and black pepper
For the topping:
500g puff pastry
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten, to glaze
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4.
2. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Meanwhile, cut the mushrooms into big pieces (field mushrooms into quarters, oysters and chestnuts into halves).
3. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the shallots and cook gently until softened. Add the mushrooms, followed by the garlic and fry over a medium heat until golden and sweet. Add the cream and simmer gently for a minute.
4. Toss in the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Add the sliced potatoes and the cheese, and give everything a good stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Spoon into a large shallow dish.
5. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 3mm thick and lay it over the top of the pie. Trim the pastry to the edge of the dish and crimp firmly against it. Brush with the beaten egg. Make a small hole in the centre of the pie to let out the steam and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
From Pieminister: A Pie For All Seasons by Tristan Hogg and Jon Simon, published by Transworld, priced £17.99.