This chicken and pesto pie takes a little preparation, but the results are definitely worth it. Once the ingredients are in the pie dish, the meal takes no effort – the components combine in the cooking process, and so the ensuing flavours are the natural result of minimal exertion!
Chicken, pesto and tomatoes are a great combination – found often in Italian-style salads, I thought it was about time that the brilliance of this culinary trilogy was transferred. To a pie. During my time at college, a few too many glasses of wine led to me making a long and drawn-out speech about the high standard of my mother’s pie making abilities; this incident has since been the cause of many jokes amongst my friends, and thus was the inspiration for this dish, to answer the ultimate question: can I make pie to the standard of my mother? And having made this, I would like to say that yes, I can. This pie is not heavy like some traditional British ones can be – the pesto gives a sauce that is light, and therefore even though this dish is filling, it is not stodgy, and so can be enjoyed on a summer’s day just as much as a winter’s! Moreover, this shortcrust pastry is incredibly easy to make, and can be used to make sweet dishes too, such as jam tarts or banoffee pie. Knowing how to make the pastry opens the doors to any filling – literally anything can be put inside a pie, it is the pastry that makes it; try a traditional steak and ale, or sweet potato and spinach for a vegetarian alternative.
- Chicken thighs (roughly two per person)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Flour – the measurements for this will depend on how large your pastry dish is.
- Butter/margarine – whatever the measurement of flour, the fat should be roughly half. So for 100g of flour, use 50g of butter
- Cold water
- An egg, beaten
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees.
- Firstly, make the pastry. Placing the flour and the butter in a bowl, ensure your hands are cold. Using only the tips of your fingers, gently rub the two ingredients together, until they combine to resemble ‘breadcrumbs’. It is essential to do this
process gently and lightly to make it airy – with each ‘rub’, lift the flour and butter breadcrumbs a little out of the bowl to introduce air. If your hands are too warm, the butter will also be too warm, and instead of breadcrumbs you will have a lumpy mess!
- Once breadcrumbs are achieved, add small amounts of cold water and stir in until a ball is formed. Wrap this in clingfilm or silver foil, and place aside in the fridge until later.
- Having made the pastry, heat a large pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the chicken thighs and cook for roughly 10 minutes either side, until the juices run clear and it is cooked throughout. Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate; using a knife and fork, shred the chicken from the bone, then return the shredded chicken to the pan. Cook for a further 5 minutes to ensure it is cooked all the way through. Season, drain from the fat, and add to a medium sized pie dish.
- Cut the cherry tomatoes into halves, and add these to the chicken in the dish. Add a tablespoon of pesto, and stir thoroughly to ensure the chicken and all the tomatoes are covered in the sauce. Continue adding if necessary, or simply to taste! Here, add the spinach, and stir in. The spinach may be difficult to subdue – when fresh, it is bouncy; with heat, it will wilt immediately, so do not worry that the pie dish is overfilled with spinach, as it will reduce in size considerably once cooked.
- Beat the egg, and set aside
- Remove the pastry from the fridge, and lightly flour a clean surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry until it is large enough to cover the pastry dish, yet has even depth. To achieve evenness on the pastry, do not push the rolling pin hard from the centre outwards – this causes the pastry in the middle to be of a different thickness to that of the outside. This causes problems, as each part of the pastry cooks at different times and thus it might be difficult to not have a half-cooked-half-burnt pie! Instead, attempt long, light strokes from the middle to the edges, rotating the pastry clockwise with every roll of the pin. This should give an even depth, and therefore an even cooking time.
- Cover the top of the pie dish with the pastry – cut off any excess from the sides using a knife, and use the remaining pastry to ‘patch up’ holes or thinner areas on the top of the pie. Brush with egg, as this will give a golden colour to the pie. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.