Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vegetable Pie

Something I've noticed about recipes from both world wars is their tendency to play a bit fast and loose with culinary vernacular. Terms like "sausage," "roast," and "pudding" are interpreted rather freely, as is the word "pie" in today's post. This type of semantic fluidity has particular resonance for vegans (and is in fact earmarked for closer analysis in another post), and of course savory pies come in many shapes and forms: pot pies, vegetable pies, cheesy pies, pizza piesquiches, French Canadian "meat" pies, Cornish pasties, and all manner of pastry-encased foodstuffs. Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I love them all passionately, and that I am always happy to welcome a new variation into my repertoire (and my stomach).

But the thing that sets today's interpretation apart from all of the afore-mentioned iterations of pieness is the lack of any crust or topping, and of course the reason for this omission is - you guessed it - that it doesn't use any wheat flour! As we know, dishes like shepherd's pie have a mashed potato rather than a pastry topping (also suggested for flour-saving WWII-era recipes like Lord Woolton Pie and Lancashire Hotpot), but 1917's Win-the-War Cookery Book doesn't even gesture towards a traditional, pie-like structure. In fact, I'd categorize this recipe as something between a casserole and a stew, except that I'm afraid the Women of Britain would come back to haunt me, send me to Belgium, and/or take away my bread.

So "vegetable pie" it is.

Now that we've addressed this dish's semiotic complexities, I must admit that the original recipe was uninspiring, if not downright depressing: basically toss some randomly chosen raw vegetables into a greased pie dish, pour a pint of milk over them, and then bake the bejesus out of the whole business before serving. Hey, war is hell on the home front, too (and no, your dinner will not be accompanied by bread, so don't even think about asking, or you'll get nothing and like it. Are you rooting for the Hun, then, greedyguts? I didn't think so).

Since the cookbook's author helpfully notes that "You can use any vegetables you like for this pie, and in any proportions," I opted to keep the potatoes but eschew the prototype's celery, artichokes, and tomatoes in favor of the equally British leeks, carrots, brussels sprouts, and mushrooms, cooked in a bit of margarine, and I substituted a pint of the same cookbook's "good white sauce" for plain milk boiled with cornstarch. The end result was actually quite tasty, and some mushy peas and leftover mashed potatoes on the side made good use of its sauciness (PHWOAR!). If I were to make it again - and I very well may - I'd probably tempt fate and add some sort of biscuity topping, but it did get a lot of veggies into us on September's first properly chilly evening without wasting any bread or flour, so I declare this another unqualified win!

Vegetable Pie
~ 2 potatoes, cooked and diced (I did them in the microwave)
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine, divided
~ 2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
~ 2 carrots, diced
~ 1 cup brussels sprouts, quartered
~ 1/2lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, marjoram, sage
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1 batch "good white sauce," with 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley added at the end

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 12" baking dish or large deep-dish pie pan with cooking spray.
~ In a large skillet, melt 1 tbsp. of the margarine over medium heat and cook the leeks, carrots, and brussels sprouts until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and seasonings and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Stir in the cooked potatoes, combine thoroughly, and transfer to your greased baking dish.
~ Pour the white sauce over the top and allow the dish to rest a few minutes so the sauce can settle into the filling.
~ Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake at 375 degrees fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
~ Remove the foil, dot the remaining tablespoonful of margarine over the top, and continue baking, uncovered, for another 10-15 minutes or until slightly browned.
~ Remove from oven and allow to rest about 10 minutes before serving.


  1. i like the poster and the message behind it! i think about food waste and try to use up all i can. the boyfriend is not a fan of savory pies but i crave one once in awhile. we had them growing up and the recipe sounds like what we had!

  2. I've always been good about not wasting food, but lately (thanks in part to this project) I'm all about repurposing leftovers, rather than just using them up "as themselves." It's fun to see how far - and in how many different directions - you can make something go!