I realize this recipe has meat in it. And I have to break it to you — not only is there beef in here, but there’s also lard and suet.** Wait! Wait! Come back! You don’t have to use any of these things to make a delicious pasty. Really. My brother is a vegetarian (and was a vegan), so my mom made some adjustments to the recipe, which I’ve included below.
But I have to say, the original is what I know and love. Pasties are probably the most memorable meal for me. They’re what I think of when I think of my mother’s cooking. On the surface, they seem to be a basic, plain type of meal – meat and potatoes – but they’re really so much more. Typically made for special occasions – birthdays, family visits, holidays – pasties were certainly not an everyday thing (as you’ll see below, they’re a bit of work. Wait! Come back! Please keep reading — they are so worth it).
This is the recipe handed down from my mother’s mother, which came from her mother, and so on and so on. My mother grew up in Dodgeville, Wisconsin with a Cornish mother and a Welsh father. And apparently, there was quite the Iron Chef thing happening in Dodgeville between the Cornish and the Welsh over who made the best pasties. Unfortunately, my grandfather didn’t have a Welsh pasty recipe, so whether that was the better one or not, my mother couldn’t say (rumor has it, the Welsh use ground beef, but if anyone has a Welsh pasty recipe, please let me know, so I can do a taste-off). And although my mother was a bit reticent about me leaking this information out to the entire world (because I’m sure that’s who’s reading this), I will indeed furnish you with her top-secret ingredient.
According to my mother, back in the day – as in, back in Cornwall – pasties were what miners ate while down in the mines. Their wives sent them down there with their pasty, all nice and warm, wrapped in newspaper (weird, but that’s how the story goes). Whenever I think about or eat a pasty, I always imagine those Cornish miners, covered in soot, sitting thousands of feet below the surface of the earth, enjoying their little self-contained piece of heaven by the flickering light of their headlamps.
But you don’t need to be a miner to enjoy these. And you don’t have to wrap them in newspaper (that seems a bit unsanitary to me). Just make them. And eat them. You will be happy. I promise.
You can certainly use lard, but my mom now uses Spectrum vegetable shortening and that’s what we used in the batch you see here. The crust is still quite flaky.
In place of the meat, use any or a combination of the following vegetables: carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, rutabaga. You want to stay in the root vegetable family; don’t use anything that releases too much water while cooking (like zucchini for instance), as the pastry won’t stay together and then you’ll have a big mess. It might be a good idea to toss the veggies in a couple teaspoons of olive oil at the outset. Some lovely sage or rosemary would be nice in there too. Just a thought.
Use pieces of butter in place of the suet. There is also a vegetarian suet substitute made by Atora that’s available online). If you’re using suet, put it in the freezer first, which makes chopping easier; or even better, ask your butcher to grind it for you.
You can make the pastry dough in a food processor, but we’ve always used a combination of a pastry blender and our hands (“It’s the only way you can tell it’s right,” says Mom).
Alright, let’s get this party started!
3 cups all-purpose flour
8-9 tablespoons vegetable shortening (or lard)
1 teaspoon salt
Ice water (we ended up using 1 cup)
1 pound sirloin steak, cubed (or a mix of veggies)
6-8 medium white potatoes (start with 6 and then do more if necessary)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons of suet, very finely chopped or shredded
For the dough, mix first three ingredients and then gradually add the ice water and mix until it forms a ball. Don’t overwork it, get it too wet or mess with it too much. Switch to your hands when it starts coming together. Divide into four equal-sized balls (we made 5 smaller ones this time around). Put them in a bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half hour and up to an hour.
Roll each ball into a circle approximately 8-10” in diameter, approximately 1/8” thick. Be careful! If you get a hole, take a very sharp knife and cut a piece off of the outside, preferably a straggly bit, and then cover the hole with it and tack it down with a little ice water and a touch of flour.
Once you have your circle rolled out, take a handful of potatoes and place them on the top half of the circle, leaving a 1/2” border around the edge. Next add a smattering of meat pieces (5-7), followed by a small handful of onion. Salt and pepper this layer. Do another layer in exactly the same manner, using a bit less of each ingredient as your pasty is starting to pile up at this point. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the suet over the top. Go around the outside of the circle, dotting with water with your finger. Carefully and with a floured spatula, pick up the bottom half of the dough and fold it over the top to make a half-moon shape. Seal the wetted edges together and then fold back or crimp the edge toward the pasty make a nice little ruffle. Cut 3 small slits (each about 3/4” long) to let the steam escape. Tuck a 1” piece of suet in the middle hole, letting half stick out on top.
Transfer the finished pasty to a cookie sheet ever so carefully – we don’t want this little baby to fall apart on us.
Take a deep breath. Aaaaand release.
Make the other three.
Bake at 400° for half an hour; if they’re browning too quickly and starting to look dark, turn the oven down to 350° and cook for another half hour (otherwise, leave it at 400°).
**Family Secret Alert **
Once the pasties are done, take the piece of suet out of the top and spoon about 1 teaspoon of melted butter into the holes of each pasty. (You know, in case you don’t think there’s enough fat representin’ in there already with our little friends lard and suet.)
Let the pasties sit for at least 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Great with a simple green salad.
* Pronounced with a soft “a,” as in “pass me a pasty”, not as in the little circles of fabric strippers wear over their lady bits.
** Do people even know what suet is? It’s actually the hard fat around the kidneys and loins (as in, “gird your loins”) in beef and sheep. I don’t suppose now is a good time to mention that we used to eat the crispy chunks of suet that were cooked in the pasties. Sorry.