As any reader of this blog knows, I love having pie for dinner: if there's pastry involved, you can count me in. Pasties, quiches, shepherd's pie, pot pies, various vegetable pies, onion tarts, mushroom tarts, even a two-crust pizza: it's all good. Which is why I must begin this post with a confession: I have only tasted a traditional French Canadian tourtière once, and that was many years ago. What's more, I thought it was pretty horrible: greasy, heavy, boringly under-seasoned, and basically not worth eating. Even way back then, I considered this a minor tragedy, since A. a savory pie is (or should be) a beautiful and delicious thing, and B. people were getting misguidedly excited about this mess.
Years went by, and while casting about for Christmas dinner ideas, it occurred to me that it might be time to have a go at this réveillon dish, with the goal of A. making it more interesting, and B. taking out the startling variety of dead animals that occur in the many regional interpretations available on the internet. (I'll spare you the details, but trust me: it ain't a pretty picture.) Taking my usual conflationary approach, I set to work and constructed a "good parts" version, adopting elements I liked from among several traditional recipes and blithely ignoring the rest.
Aside from the sage, the flavor profile is quite different from an English-style pie featuring marjoram, thyme, rosemary, etc., and I'll admit to being slightly alarmed by the quantity of cloves, allspice, and traditionally "sweet" seasonings called for in many tourtières. But my skepticism was completely ill-founded, because with a few tweaks and the application of a little common sense, the combination of flavors worked beautifully, and the result was a pie that was not only delicious, but passed muster with my Canadian partner. So I call that a success, and one that has earned its place on our table this December 25th - only this time I'll make two, since it's even better as leftovers. (NB: although tourtière is often served with relish or ketchup, we had ours with a double batch of two-pepper golden gravy from Vegan Diner, to which I added a dash of sage, and substituted 2 tsp. of my beloved "no chicken" bouillon for the soy sauce and salt. While I recommend this approach highly, the gentle reader should obviously do as they think best!)
Tourtière à la Végétalien
~ Pastry for two-crust pie (homemade or store-bought)
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 medium onion, small dice
~ 1 stalk celery, minced
~ 1 carrot, grated
~ 1 tsp. each: sage, celery seed
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon
~ A few generous grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 2 large potatoes, cooked and roughly mashed
~ 1 package veggie meatballs, baked and mashed (I used Nate's)
~ 1.5 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 1 tsp. Marmite
~ ¼ cup brandy
~ Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a deep pie plate with half the pastry, reserving the other half.
~ In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onion, celery, and carrot for about 10 minutes, until quite soft.
~ Add the garlic and seasonings (salt through black pepper) and cook another minute or two.
~ Add the mashed potatoes and meatballs and stir to combine thoroughly.
~ Heat the "no chicken" broth to almost boiling and stir in the Marmite until it dissolves. Add this liquid to the skillet, mix well, and continue cooking another 5-7 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture is fairly smooth and uniform.
~ Begin adding the brandy by tablespoonfuls, stirring with each addition. Continue cooking 5 minutes more, and then remove from heat and set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes.
~ Spoon the cooled filling evenly into the prepared pie crust, smoothing with a spatula. Top with the remaining pastry, making sure to crimp the edges tightly to seal.
~ With a sharp knife, make a few small gashes in the top crust so steam can escape as the pie bakes.
~ Bake, uncovered, in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.