The winters in Portland are not nearly as mean, but I couldn’t help remembering one ritual that got me through those grey days. After trudging home from school, I used to rifle through the freezer and pull out a Marie Callendar pot pie. You know the kind—the one with the tiny cubes of carrots, the unnaturally bright-green peas, the cornstarchy gravy. I’d puncture a hole in the plastic film, pop it in the microwave, and wait impatiently for the film to steam up and the buzzer to sound. The first bite was always the best: digging my fork into the pie, the savory steam fogging up my glasses and melting away the day’s blahs.
I no longer own a microwave and it's been a long time since I’ve had a Marie Callendar pot pie, but I wondered if that trick still worked. I’d never made a pot-pie before from scratch, and this recipe works off my memory alone. I had the most fun incorporating the dried porcini. In November, I went hunting for them for the first time. If you've ever eaten fresh porcini, you'll be acquainted with their slightly woodsy flavor. However, I've always appreciated how that woodsy taste intensifies when you dry them. Some mushrooms don't hold up well in storage, but porcini has the rare advantage of maintaining its assertive musky earthiness once dehydrated--a boon to any recipe in need of a little something extra. You can grind them with salt to sprinkle over soft scrambled eggs, or add them to a cream sauce to serve with linguine. In this instance, I reconstituted the porcini in hot water, and then used the leftover liquid as a mushroom broth to give the pie that homey savory flavor.
As for the pie itself, I didn’t use any cornstarch. I made a simple roux with butter, flour, and boullion. Then I chopped a little of everything in my fridge, including some spring vegetables like fennel, leeks, new potatoes, peas, and sweet carrots. I used puff pastry for the top, which required no effort other slicing a couple of steam vents. Really, it was a pretty lazy evening in the kitchen.
This is what comfort-cooking is all about. It's about that first bite, when the scrape of your fork releases a plume of hot steam. It's about taking a little time out of the day to forget about everything else outside of the kitchen. My verdict: this trick still works.
Porcini & Chicken Pot PieThe porcini is the star of this pie, and the chicken can come from a leftover roast, or you can omit it completely. Porcini loves to be paired with spring herbs and vegetables, like thyme, leeks, and fennel.
1/2 cup dried porcini
1 cup boiling water
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. flour
1/2 cube chicken boullion
1/4 cup whole milk, plus 1 Tbs. reserved for brushing
1/2 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, choppedmedium
2 new potatoes, thinly sliced
1 leek rinsed, the course outer leaves removed, thinly sliced
1/2 cup string beans, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 cup cooked chicken, chopped or cubed
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbs. chopped thyme (from 3-4 sprigs)
1/2 teas. sea salt
2 small bay leaves
2 pinches ground nutmegPepper to Taste2 5x5 squares of puff pastry, thawed if frozen*
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two medium-sized ramekins or crock pots, (I just used two durable cereal-bowls). Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, cover the dried porcini with boiling water. Let steep for 20 minutes, covered. Strain to remove any grit, making sure to reserve the liquid. Rinse the porcini if there is any grit, and chop them finely.
3. In a wide skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. To this add the fennel, carrots, potato and leeks. Cook this until the vegetables begin to soften for about 5-7 minutes, then add the chopped garlic, string beans, and frozen peas. Stir and cook until all vegetables are fork-tender (but not mushy), about 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan or medium-low heat. Add the boullion to the butter, using a wooden spoon to break it up. To this, add the flour, and once the mixture turns into a bright yellow paste, begin to slowly add the heavy cream, whisking to incorporate. Add the reserved porcini broth, whisking again to incorporate. Bring to a gentle simmer, until the roux has thickened the broth significantly, about 10 minutes.
5. Add the cream mixture to the vegetables, stirring to coat them evenly. Add the porcini and the cooked chicken, stirring again to coat.
6. Divide the filling evenly into two ramekins.Tuck into each dish a small bay leaf, then sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg. Top each ramekin with a square of puff pastry, pressing the dough gently on the edges of the dishes to secure them. Brush the tops with 1 tbs. of cream, and cut two steam vents in each pie.
7. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes, until the pastry is golden and puffy. Serve immediately. Serves 2.
*I use store-bought puff pastry, but if you're feeling ambitious, this is one of the best recipes I've found for it.