This year I was very keen to enter, I was so thrilled to reach the finals last year, and I may be tempting fate to enter again, but I really wanted to give it another go. I have to admit it took me a while to decide what to make though. I was very close to entering a Key Lime Pie. I love these zesty pies, and they take me right back to age 12 when I had my first taste of one in Florida. Even today they conjure up memories of exotic palm trees and sunshine and are one of my favourite things to eat. But, even though I love those pies, I still wasn't completely sure that it was what I wanted to enter, so I had another think.
After thinking it through further, I realised that while I love a good sweet treat, my heart has always been with salty, savoury foods. My cravings were always chips over chocolate and I'd often have seconds of dinner rather than a dessert. So, I have decided to enter a savoury bake! I may be mad to turn my back on sweet cakes and bakes, but at the same time I just know there are lots of who really would appreciate a really fine savoury centrepiece on the table.
So here is my entry. A vegan picnic pie! Lovely layers of delicious veggies, tofu and herbs wrapped up in a delicate polenta pasty. It's great served cold for picnics and buffets but also an impressive hot main. I am thinking of making a slight variation of this for our Christmas dinner centrepiece this year!
I know there are many, many, many(!) stages to this pie. It certainly isn't your everyday recipe. Think of it as a meal for a big get together or special occasion; a real celebratory centrepiece, a recipe for when you can take your time, perhaps with a cheeky glass of wine and a friend to help out.
Saying that though, if you are pushed for time, then a cheat version can easily be thrown together. Simply buy some vegan ready made shortcrust pasty (or make it ahead of time and store in the freezer), and sub the home cooked veggies for a selection of marinated and char-grilled veggies from the deli counter at the supermarket (or even the jarred kinds from the shelves if you drain off the oil well) and you're good to go! It will look every bit as impressive, but take hardly any time at all.
Before you begin this recipe, make sure you have a 23cm spring-form cake tin to bake it in!
For the pasty
375g Spelt flour (white gives a lighter finish, wholegrain is healthier, or mix them together half and half!)
180g coconut or olive spread, I use Biona
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
Enough chilled water to mix to a dough
For the filling
4 tbsp store bought black olive tapenade* (be sure to check it has no anchovies)
6 red pointed peppers (these are slightly sweeter than the bell peppers)
10 large basil leaves
1 can of butter beans, drained
1 butternut squash
100g frozen spinach, defrosted
2 bunches of asparagus
500g chestnut mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
1 pack of firm tofu
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
First we're going to make the pastry. Add the flour, polenta and salt to a large bowl. Add the spread and work through the flour to make a breadcrumb consistency. Add the cold water a tablespoon at a time, while mixing with your hands to create a ball of dough. Wrap in greaseproof paper or cling-film and put in the fridge to rest while you make the filling. The pastry can easily be made the night before too!
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/170 fan oven
Peel the squash and slice into 1cm rounds. Place them on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast for 25mins until just cooked. Remove and set aside.
Slice the courgettes into long thing ribbons, about 1/4 cm thick. Season with sea salt and pepper and cook them over a hot griddle or under a hot grill until cooked through. Brush the asparagus with a little olive oil and flash griddle these, just enough to see some char marks, being careful not to cook all the way through as they can go soft very easily. Set aside.
Grill the peppers under a very hot grill until the skin chars. Put them in a bowl and cover with cling film and leave to steam for 10 minutes, this will make it easier to remove the skins.
While the peppers are steaming, finely chop the garlic and add to a pan with some olive oil oil, slice the mushrooms and add to the pan, season with salt and pepper and sauté until cooked. Strain off the juice and set aside.
When the peppers have cooled, simply peel off the skins (they should be nice and loose), cut in half and discard the seeds.
Squeeze the juice out of the spinach, and add to a bowl. Season well with sea salt and black pepper. Add the nutritional yeast, and crumble in the tofu. Squeeze the mixture together really well with your hands to combine.
Time to assemble the pie!
Unwrap the pasty and take 2/3rds of the mixture, setting aside the other 3rd. Lightly dust a work surface and roll out the pasty into a large round, to line the tin. Take your spring-form cake tin and line the tin with the pastry, gently smoothing the sides as much as you can without tearing it. Trim off the excess from around the edges.
Making the layers!
Lay the courgette slices over the bottom of the pasty to create and even layer. Season a little more with sea salt and pepper. Spread the olive tapenade over the courgettes making sure they are covered well.
Next arrange the peppers over the courgettes, you should have enough to make two layers of peppers.
Sprinkle the basil leaves over the peppers.
Next pour over the butter beans. Season this layer well with sea salt and black pepper. Top the beans with a layer of roasted squash, and then spread over the tofu-spinach mixture.
Next layer the asparagus over the spinach, you may need to cut them in halves to make sure you fill in all the gaps. Top with the mushrooms which will come to the top of the tin!
Lets get the top on! Roll out the remainder of the pastry and place over the top of the tin. Trim off the excess and crimp the edges together with your thumb and fingers like you would to crimp a pasty. You could also seal just by pressing down with a fork.
If you like at this stage you can use the excess pasty that you trimmed off to create a decoration for the pie, I like to use a leaf pattern.
Make a hole in the centre of the pasty to allow the steam to come out, and then lightly brush the top with a little soya milk to create a golden crust.
Cook the pie in the centre of the oven for around 50 minutes. You may need to cover the top with some tin foil after the first 30 minutes if the edges are getting too brown.
Cool slightly before removing from the tin and cutting into slices. This pie tastes even better left in a fridge overnight, and makes for a perfect cold centrepiece!
Enjoy (and wish me luck!)! xx
*Although traditionally tapenade contains anchovies, we found two varieties of jarred black olive tapenade in our local supermarket and both were vegan! We went for the one with added cumin and chilli in as it had a richer depth of flavour. Brands that are vegan are: Gaea Kalamata Tapenade, Olive Branch Chunky Tapenade and Belazu Black Olive Tapenade (which is the one we used).