The Heavy Table Winter Pasty Laboratory

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Few edibles are as skilled as the pasty when it comes to addressing the key problems of winter — namely that it’s cold, and you could eat a horse or two after a typical walk to the post office. This globetrotting British Isles native pops up everywhere Cornish mine foremen swung a pickaxe, including Minnesota’s Iron Range and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and its bulletproof (figuratively and very nearly literally) blend of tough-as-leather crust and heavy, meat-and-potatoes filling is a supreme example of nourishing comfort food.

We’re big fans of the pasty (the Dilley-Norton household regularly orders a dozen frozen pies from Lawry’s in Marquette, Michigan), but we thought it would be fun to put the dish through its paces with some modern fillings. Thus, our Pasty Laboratory: seven cooks, one very busy kitchen and dining room, and five original pasty variants that traveled Europe, Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Illinois in search of inspiration.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Wedge Co-op kindly underwrote our enterprise, and thanks to their support, meats, fruits, veggies, soups, and a variety of other savory items were laid out on our dining room table for consideration by our small army of cooks.

Our process was as simple as the cooking was chaotic. We brainstormed a half-dozen pasty recipes that captured the “meal in a crust” ethic. Different cooks took the lead on different recipes, and we started sauteing, rolling, and baking.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

What we’re calling pasties here are far from traditional although well within the norm of pasty-focused innovation on display at places like Potter’s Pasties and Turtle River Pasties of Turtle Lake. They’re organized around the principle of a one-dish meal, combining complementary flavors to evoke an appetizer and a main, or dinner and dessert. Spiritually, these hearty pastry pockets evoke the strengths of the traditional north country Cornish pasty, but they also represent some serious departures.

First and foremost: traditional pasty crust is lard-based and tough as tails. It’s less a gastronomic flourish than a hardy sheath designed to bring lunch down to the mine intact, with industrial-strength crimped edges that can be used as a handle by a miner in chemical-stained gloves and then discarded.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We instead went with a butter-based empanada crust that was flaky and tender, strong enough to contain the innards of the dish but yielding enough to complement the filling without overwhelming it. The recipe we used (and have loved over the years) is Cafe Azul’s Pastry Dough, which should be adequate for seven or eight pasties.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Without further ado, the recipes. Keep in mind that we winged these frantically over the course of an evening — you’ll want to fine-tune as you make them, adjusting seasonings and proportions to suit your own sensibilities. Think of these less as scientific formulas and more as creative guidelines that have been tested by a gaggle of passionate home cooks and found to be successful.

Most of the filling recipes will make between 2 and 4 pasties, but this will vary by recipe and according to how large and stuffed you like your pasties. A certain amount of improvisational bravado is a must.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Chana Masala Samosa Pasty: Indian Spice Creates a Meat-Free Flavor Bomb
Filling for 2-4 pasties
Created by James Norton and Letta Page

This pasty is a combination of two satisfying dishes: the potato-and-pea comfort of the samosa plus the creamy, tomato-tangy kick of saucy chickpeas.

For the Crust: Approximately ⅛ recipe Cafe Azul’s Pastry Dough, rolled out slightly larger than 8″ and trimmed into a circle using an 8″ lid as a guide.

For the Samosa:
1 tbsp butter
1 small onion
2 large potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 c of frozen peas
1 tbsp of garam masala, or 1½ tsp each of cumin, salt, and hot paprika
2 tbsp of chopped fresh cilantro

Saute the onion in butter at medium-low heat until soft and tender, about 10 minutes. Bring heat up to medium-high. Add potatoes, and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to soften and brown a bit (10-15 minutes). Stir in the spices, peas, and cilantro, and remove from heat.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

For the Chana Masala:
1 tbsp butter
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
2 tsp paprika
1 can of tomato sauce
1 c heavy cream
1 large (28-oz.) can of chickpeas
¼ c chopped fresh cilantro

Meanwhile, melt the butter in another saute pan over medium heat. Saute the garlic and jalapeno for about a minute, until garlic is fragrant. Add the spices, and saute for an additional minute. Add the cream and tomato sauce, and bring to a boil; then reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas, and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Finish with a sprinkling of cilantro.

Let the fillings cool before stuffing the pasties.

The Pasty: Fill one half with the samosa filling and the other half with the chana malasa, taking care not to add too much liquid. Brush the exterior of the pasty with egg wash; sprinkle on some garam masala or other Indian spice blend, and bake for about 20 minutes at 350°F.

Optional: Serve with a yogurt-cilantro dipping sauce.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Korean Barbecue Pork Pasty and Plum Pie: Tart and Satisfying Dinner Plus Dessert
Filling for 2-4 pasties
Created by Paige Latham and Letta Page

The tangy heat of Korean barbecue sauce plays wonderfully with pork. And the savory dish thus created is a complement to the slightly sweet but primarily tart plum pie half of the pasty.

For the Crust: Approximately ⅛ recipe Cafe Azul’s Pastry Dough, rolled out slightly larger than 8″ and trimmed into a circle using an 8″ lid as a guide.

For the Barbecue Pork:
1 lb. pork cutlets, in ¾″ cubes
About ⅔ c Korean BBQ sauce (we used a 50-50 mix of Great Taste of Korea Hot and Original)

Heat up the oven’s broiler, and broil the pork (tossed with half the BBQ sauce) on a sheet pan for 2-3 minutes until it is browned and cooked through.
Toss broiled pork with the remaining half of the BBQ sauce before stuffing your pasty.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

For the Plum Pie:
6 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted
1 tbsp raisins
2 tsp small pearl tapioca, light ground in a mortar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
Ginger and turmeric to taste

In a saute pan over medium heat, cook down all the ingredients for about 10-15 minutes, until the mixture has thickened. Let cool before stuffing the pasty.

For the Pasty: Add barbecued pork to one half and the pie filling to the other half. Add another 2 to 4 plum halves (uncooked; ours were frozen) to the pie half, to lend fresh flavor and definition. Bake for 20 minutes at 350°F.

Optional: Serve with a Korean barbecue dipping sauce.

pasty-lab-timpasty

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Timpasty: Just the Right Balance of Italian Comfort
Filling for 2-4 pasties
Created by Becca Dilley

Our story on the Timpano illustrated how a massive pastry drum stuffed with meat, cheese, and marinara could end up tasting balanced and delicious. The addition of hard boiled eggs leavens the mix and lightens the result. That same principle works with this pasty variant.

For the Crust: Approximately ⅛ recipe Cafe Azul’s Pastry Dough, rolled out slightly larger than 8″ and trimmed into a circle using an 8″ lid as a guide.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

For the Meatballs (makes about 30 small, which will leave you with some leftovers):
½ lb. 85-percent-lean ground beef
1½ slices of white bread cubed small and soaked in a cup of milk and then squeezed out
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
Generous grinding of pepper
1 egg, beaten
¼ c sauteed onions
1 tsp oregano
1 crisp strip of bacon, crumbled

Make 20-30 small meatballs, and then fry them on medium-high heat in olive oil until browned, turning frequently, for about 10 minutes.

For the Rest of the Filling:
1 c of provolone cheese, sliced into match-stick like pieces
½ c of aged salami or other Italian sausage, chopped into very small cubes
2 hard-boiled eggs
1 c of marinara sauce (from a jar, or make your own)

The Pasty: Put three or four meatballs into the pasty along with an egg, sliced in half. Sprinkle on some cheese and salami, and ladle on some marinara. Fold and seal the pasty. Brush it with egg wash (one egg whisked with a tablespoon of water), and bake for about 20 minutes at 350°F.

Optional: Serve with a small dish of hot marinara for dipping.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Rise and Shine Pasty: Maple-Kissed Vegetarian Sausage Meets Omelet
Filling for 2-4 pasties
Created by Joshua Page

This vegetarian pasty brings together the best of both worlds: veggie breakfast sausage tossed with maple syrup and a simple but flavorful omelet, both contained within a convenient shell.

For the Crust: Approximately ⅛ recipe Cafe Azul’s Pastry Dough, rolled out slightly larger than 8″ and trimmed into a circle using an 8″ lid as a guide.

For the Sausage Side:
8 small vegetarian breakfast sausages, chopped and tossed with about 3 tbsp maple syrup

For the Egg Side:
2 eggs, scrambled
¼ cup of fresh spinach, rinsed
¼ cup of shredded Gouda
2 tbsp sauteed onions
Salt and pepper to taste

Scramble the eggs softly; they’ll cook a bit more in the pasty.

The Pasty: Fill half the pasty with eggs and the other half with sausages; fold and crimp, coat with egg wash, and bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes, until the crust is browned.

Optional: Serve with warm maple syrup for dipping or drizzling.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The McPasty: An Attempt at a Juicy Lucy Gone Horribly Right
Filling for 2-4 pasties
Created by Peter Sieve

Our goal with this pasty was to evoke a cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy hamburger. The addition of minced pickle to the burger and the fact that the cheese was absorbed by the meat meant that what we got was a homemade taste-alike for a McDonald’s cheeseburger — made with better meat, of course. We served this with yellow mustard and Heinz ketchup and were collectively horrified by how good it tasted.

For the Crust: Approximately ⅛ recipe Cafe Azul’s Pastry Dough, rolled out slightly larger than 8″ and trimmed into a circle using an 8″ lid as a guide.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

For the Filling:
1 lb. 85-percent-lean ground beef
2 small dill pickles, minced finely
2 tbsp caramelized chopped onions
2 Kraft singles (or other American cheese), diced
2 tbsp butter

Divide beef into four equal portions, and incorporate the pickles. Form 4 thin patties. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Place a small amount of cheese and onion in the middle of the two patties; cover with the other patties, and crimp the edges.

Heat a saute pan and add 2 tablespoons of butter. Brown the Lucys briefly on both sides. Remove from the pan. Let cool; then place on the rolled-out dough. Crimp edge; paint with egg wash. BAM.

Mandatory: Serve with yellow mustard and Heinz ketchup.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Paige Latham, Letta Page, Joshua Page, Becca Dilley, James Norton, Peter Sieve, and Tricia Cornell contributed to this story.

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The Heavy Table team of writers, editors, and photographers has been documenting food and drink in the Upper Midwest since 2009.

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