PUNK PASTY TO PEEVE THE PURISTS

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It’s crunch time for the Cornish pasty. Three years ago, the traditional miner’s meal was given Protected Geographical Indication Status by the EU. To be described as Cornish, a pasty must now conform to EU regulations. Not only must it be made (but not necessarily cooked) in Cornwall, but it has to meet all sorts of other specifications. It must be fashioned into a D‑shape. It must be filled with potato, swede, onion and beef. The ingredients must be raw when the pastry is filled, and then cooked inside it. The pasty must be sealed around the edges (not on top) and it must be crimped, not pinched. Any companies selling pasties made outside Cornwall – or with pinched tops, or containing contraband vegetables (even carrots) – were given three years to mend their ways. As of this month, their time is up.

Regular readers of this column will know that this kind of thing makes me rather prickly. I love a traditional Cornish pasty. They are classics for a reason: they have been tried and tested over a long period of time and found to be Good. But I have little time for those culinary purists who insist we must always stick to tradition for its own sake.

The food we eat – like the language we speak – is in constant flux, shaped by geography, politics, economics and history. Experimentation and improvement is what we humans are good at.

If it’s just a matter of maintaining high standards – you can’t do that by legislating against inventiveness. (I notice that the Greggs website still shows a Cornish pasty containing not only carrots but peas. Pass the smelling salts!)

So – in solidarity with you top-pinchers out there – we bring you the anti-Cornish punk pasty, filled with squash and pecans (from America!), and blue cheese and spinach. And the ingredients are cooked before the pasty is filled. Nothing could be less authentic. Nothing could be more delicious.

Squash, blue cheese, spinach and pecan “Cornish” pasties :

This is the first time in this column that we have dealt with pastry. As a youth, pastry making used to make me nervous. There seemed to be so many rules, so much jeopardy. But once you understand the process it is, in fact, easy. What you are essentially doing is trapping pieces of butter within a dough made of flour and water. When this is rolled out and heated the butter melts and the water contained within the butter turns to steam, rising and pushing apart the now-cooked layers of dough.

The finer you mix the flour with the butter, the “shorter” and crumblier your pastry. If you mix it too fine, the pastry will become dusty. This is why you are always directed to keep the butter very cold and the water iced. If the butter melts it will mix too finely with the flour. As a rule of thumb, the ratio of butter to flour is 1:1, but you’ll see that we’ve created something a little more buttery here.

  • First, make the pastry. Put the flour, sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse briefly until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Transfer to a bowl and stir in enough iced water to form a dough (about 3-4 tbsp) – it should be soft but not too wet. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. Toss the butternut squash pieces in a little oil and season. Roast on a shallow baking tray for 30 minutes, or until the squash is just cooked.
  • Set aside to cool for a few minutes. Sprinkle the squash with the garlic, red onion, pecans, cayenne pepper and sage leaves. Fold the ingredients through the squash with a spatula. Season well and return the tray to the oven for another 5 mins, then set aside to cool fully.
  • Tip the mixture into a bowl. Crumble in the blue cheese. Heat a little oil in a large pan until hot. Tip in the spinach and stir well. Cover and leave for a minute to wilt. Take off the heat, and tip into a colander. Run cold water over the spinach. When cool, drain well and squeeze out the excess water. Season, roughly chop and fold through the squash mix.

Now you’re ready to assemble your pasties. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until quite thin (1-2 mm). Cut out four circles using a plate about 16cm in diameter, re-roll the offcuts and cut out another 1-2 circles. Make sure the squash mix is cool, or it will melt the butter in the pastry. Divide the squash mix between the four circles. Brush the egg wash around the perimeter of the circles. Bring up either side to meet in the middle and seal all the way around. Now you can try a fancy crimp or just pinch them together with your thumb and forefinger. Place on a baking sheet and brush all over with the rest of the egg wash. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.