Maybe it was memories of Mussels down in Padstow, but I suddenly got a massive craving for a Cornish Pasty. Cornish pasties date back to the 13th Century, during the reign of Henry III. They were eaten by poorer working families who could only afford cheap ingredients such as potatoes, swede and onion. Meat was added later. Miners and farm workers took this portable and easy to eat convenience food with them to work because it was so well suited to the purpose. Its size and shape made it easy to carry, its pastry case insulated the contents and was durable enough to survive, while its wholesome ingredients provided enough sustenance to see the workers through their long and arduous working days. The crust (crimped edge) was used as a handle which was then discarded due to the high levels of arsenic in many of the tin mines. Luckily, now a days we can eat all the pastry and they are great in the kids lunch box, but the classic mix of beef, swede, onion and potato is set in stone and it would be considered sacrilege to modify these ingredients in any way.
But your pasty does not have to be Cornish. In fact, it could come from almost anywhere and contain whatever you like or have to hand. It is a fabulous way of using up left over root vegetables which is always helpful with a veg box in the winter; carrots, celeriac, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes and squashes all work fantastically well. It could be meat free but it certainly makes a little meat go a long way. Just remember whatever you put in your pasty, it must be cut pretty small and must all cook in the same time. I always worry with pies when the ingredients go in raw, that the filling won’t cook or I will end up with soggy pastry, but as long as the pieces in your filling are never any larger than about 1cm, and the pastry is sealed well, the pasty acts like a little steamer and they always turn out great.
My next top tip for busy cooks, is ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pasty. The supermarkets have really got their acts together on the pastry front and you can find a good selection of all-butter pastries in the chilled or freezer section. Check the ingredients and make sure that they contain little more than butter and flour and you can guarantee that they will be good.
So here is a vegetarian version with nothing more than sweet potato and leek. I haven’t called them Cornish as they have no meat or swede, but you can add whatever you like and call it whatever you like too.
Sweet Potato and Leek Pasties
1 large sweet potato, peeled
2 leeks, shredded, washed well and drained well
salt and freshly ground black pepper
knob of butter
2 packets of ready rolled all-butter shortcrust pasty
1 egg, lightly whisked
Chop the sweet potatoes into cubes, no bigger than 1 cms and mix together with the leeks, plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lightly grease a baking tray with butter or line with baking or silicone paper. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Cut your pasty in to discs roughly 15cms wide. I use a small bowl to cut round. Spoon some mixture into the middle of each disk (be generous, you can get in more than you think) and top with a large knob of butter. Then bring the pastry around and crimp together. I find the ready rolled pastry stick fine but they are best if you turn the pastry over before filling. The down side sticks best. Do not get the pastry wet or that will stop is sealing. A genuine Cornish pasty has a distinctive ‘D’ shape and is crimped on one side, never on top but I like mine the other way. It is up to you. Just make sure it is well sealed and has plenty of filling. Put the pasties onto the baking tray and brush the top of each pasty with the egg. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 30 minutes or until the pasties are golden-brown.