Rachel Roddy Tales from an Ital­ian kitchen

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Meat and potato pie

We still don’t have an oven in our new flat. Things that re­quire one need car­ry­ing down a flight of stairs, across the in­ter­nal court­yard and up two flights to my friend’s stu­dio. She’s of­ten away, so I let my­self in, put what­ever it is in the oven, set the timer on my phone and go home. When my pocket rings, I run back over. Our court­yard is not un­used to cook­ing smells – in fact, it’s a vor­tex of them, the ovens and vents of a ground-floor bak­ery, trat­to­ria, bar and can­teen-like tavola calda com­pet­ing for air. There are also the 64 kitchens in 64 flats over five floors that open on to the court­yard, in­clud­ing my friend’s stu­dio. By the time I get to the court­yard, I have an ab­so­lute nose­ful.

But to­day it was meat and potato pie. The smell of beef, onions and potato, a thick, pur­pose­ful and savoury scent of meat steam­ing and brais­ing un­der­neath a pie crust, and the smell of pas­try it­self, made me stop and catch my breath. In that hot scent were York­shire and Lan­cashire mar­ket stalls; my gen­tle grand­par­ents and the oval meat and tatty pies that warmed our hands but gave us heart­burn; their house, which al­ways seemed to smell of worry, meat and pota­toes; and, of course, Granny’s pub, and the end­less meat and tatty pies eaten there. Then, as I as­cended the stairs, the smell was also of Si­cily, the wedges of olive-oil pas­try torta we eat there in bars with strip light­ing and cur­tains of lotto tick­ets.

The odd com­bi­na­tion of Si­cil­ian and Lan­cashire aro­mas came about be­cause I was try­ing a clas­sic meat-and-potato fill­ing in an Ital­ian olive-oil crust, which some might say is sacri­lege, but seemed a good pas­try-fill­ing match, es­pe­cially for an English­woman with Lan­cas­trian roots who lives with a Si­cil­ian.

This pas­try, made from 450g flour, salt, three ta­ble­spoons of olive oil and enough wa­ter to make it into a putty-like dough, is a good match for a meat and potato fill­ing, be­cause it stretches and can be twisted closed, mak­ing for a sturdy and func­tional pie. Al­ter­na­tively, there is clas­sic lard dough, which is ten­der and softly flaky. For this, I fol­low Si­mon Hopkinson’s recipe: 150g cold, diced lard, rubbed into 250g flour, a pinch of salt and enough iced wa­ter to bring ev­ery­thing to­gether. Both doughs need to be chilled for an hour, then two-thirds used to line a loose­bot­tomed 20cm-wide x 4cm-deep tin. The fill­ing is the same for both: 300g diced brais­ing steak, 200g diced onion, 200g diced potato, a heaped ta­ble­spoon of flour, salt and pep­per, all mixed and piled into the case, with 75ml wa­ter poured on top and cov­ered with the fi­nal third of pas­try and given a milky brush. Bak­ing is the same for both, too: 20 min­utes at 200C (180C fan)/gas 6, then an hour at 160C (140C fan)/gas 3, or un­til the top is golden.

Of all the pies, meat and tatty is the most com­plete, I think: sub­stance, soft­ness and a starchy, en­velop­ing gravy. I al­ways wish for mashed potato with pies, ex­cept for meat and potato pie, when I wish for peas. I didn’t have any, so in their ab­sence I had bread, but­ter and pick­les – a good al­ter­na­tive to ac­com­pany a pie I have car­ried through my life, across a court­yard and up a flight of stairs.

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