Spherical Mass

Stuff that matters

The other day, a friend who owns a food shop told me that, during the first lockdown, the air was thick with projects: she sold flour by the sack, loads of yeast, many types of dried beans, and litres and litres of vinegar. During the second lockdown, she noticed a new pattern of customers, old and new, coming to buy just a bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate. Of course, there were also people buying flour, yeast, beans and vinegar. However, we didn’t talk about them, because they clouded our more entertaining and much simpler idea. We decided that, this year, both purposeful projects and life are like pastry on top of a pie – in order to survive (baking), they require slashes, to let steam out… We require these “slashes”, whether it’s a bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate, chips and champagne, or a bag of crisps in the bath. In short, a generous amount of an undemanding thing, especially at this time of year – especially this year.

As well as undemanding, I want adaptable food; the kind of food that embodies my dad’s favourite expression – the one we would roll our eyes at, but then stuff up our sleeves – “keep expectations flexible”. I have every intention of making this roast pumpkin, mushroom and chestnut pie at some point over Christmas – “at some point” being the important words. Writing this in advance, Christmas is still necessarily nebulous and undecided; I have lists of things edible and otherwise that are like circling aircraft waiting for a landing slot. As yet, nothing is fixed. And this pie understands that the pumpkin, tub of ricotta and vacuum-packed chestnuts are all resilient ingredients, there for the 19th or the 29th, ready for an easy dinner with salad or to be part of a feast. And if, when it comes to cooking, pastry isn’t required, the mixture of roast pumpkin, mushroom, chestnuts and thyme can be lengthened into soup, or mixed with rice or a heap of couscous.

I hope I (and you) do make the pie, though – it is one of my favourite recipes: the ricotta pastry tender, with just the right amount of flaky crumble; the filling thick and as richly flavoured as Henry VIII’s doublet.

It is important to roll the pastry thin for the pie, and preheat a baking tray, which helps the base cook more evenly. And, most important of all, don’t forget to slash the top.

Roast pumpkin, mushroom and chestnut pie
Serves 6

For the pastry
160g cold butter, diced
300g 00 or plain flour
200g ricotta
Beaten egg or milk, for brushing

For the filling
400g pumpkin flesh, diced
Olive oil
30g butter
1 small onion, peeled and diced
120g mushrooms, chopped
200g cooked chestnuts, crumbled
1 pinch fresh thyme leaves
3 tbsp grated parmesan

Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5. Make the pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the ricotta and a pinch of salt, mix and bring together into a soft ball. Turn out the pastry on to a floured work surface and knead until smooth, then cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Spread the pumpkin on a baking tray, pour over oil and salt, and toss so every piece glistens. Bake for 40 minutes, until soft and golden.

In a frying pan, melt the butter and two tablespoons of oil, then fry the onion until soft and translucent. Add the mushroom and a pinch of salt, cook until soft, then add the chestnuts, roast pumpkin, thyme, salt and lots of black pepper, and cook for a minute more. Take off the heat and stir in the parmesan.

Butter and flour a 26cm round tin, and put a flat baking tray in the oven to heat up. Cut the dough into two uneven pieces, one twice the size of the other. On a floured work surface, roll the larger piece into a circle big enough to fill the tin, come up the sides and overhang. Lift the dough into the tin, then add the filling.

Roll the smaller piece into a disc the size of the tin and lift on to the filling. Using wet fingertips, press together the dough around the edges to make a firm seal. Prick or slash the centre of the tart, paint with beaten egg or milk, place on the hot baking tray, and slide into the oven for 50 minutes, until golden. Leave to cool a little before turning out and serving warm or at room temperature.