This has been the best summer ever.
I can say that with absolute certainty. I am affectionately calling it the Summer of Mabel. Mabel’s first summer. And what a summer to have as your first. The weather was incredible, the sun was consistently shining and there wasn’t one single day where even a lightweight coat was required. Mabel and I spent the summer outside – in the garden, in the park, walking around, seeing old friends and making new ones, just generally enjoying what has come to be Mabel’s summer – the best summer ever.
The thought of Autumn’s arrival has been making me feel a bit sad. Summer ending is always a little bit sad, but this one has felt even harder. I don’t know if it’s because it’s been such a special time with Mabel or because the thought of having to go back to work is creeping slowly closer or just because the nights are drawing in and, while it’s still relatively warm, there is a noticeable chill in the air.
But then yesterday, I made a Chicken, Leek and Tarragon pie for the whole family and I remembered that actually Autumn can be pretty beautiful too. The leaves are changing, the air is fresh and the pesky fruit flies may finally disappear for the year. Can a pie really have that sort of effect on someone? Well yes, it can if it’s a particularly special pie.
You see, when Mabel’s Daddy and I got married, we wrote and created our own cookbook to give to each guest at our wedding. The cookbook was filled with some of our favourite recipes and most memorable stories. This chicken pie was one of those we included. So it felt even more special to cook it for the first time for Mabel and watch her enjoy it so enthusiastically. I made Mabel her own individual pie marked with an M. The only difference between hers and the “grown-up” version was added salt in ours (the recipe for both is below). She ate it with mash and carrots and seemed to love it just as much as her daddy and I have many times before.I suppose as we pass through seasons, each one is going to feel special in its own right, filled with a million new Mabel firsts and adventures. There will be pies to mark Autumns and stews to mark winters and anything and everything in between. I guess the trick is just to appreciate each day, savour each season and welcome everything new with open arms and rumbling tummies. Something we are very good at in this household.
Chicken, Leek & Tarragon Pie
For the shortcrust pastry:
250g plain flour
125g unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten
Salt & pepper for seasoning after
For the filling:
75g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
350ml whole milk
3 chicken breasts, skin off
1 large leek
5 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
Salt & pepper
Sift the flour into a large bowl and rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add enough cold water to bring the mixture together into a smooth dough.
Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or until you’re ready for it.
For the filling, poach the chicken and a few sprigs of tarragon in the milk in a pot with the lid on until it is fully cooked (about 20 minutes). Remove the chicken from the pan, reserving the milk and chop the meat into cubes. Set aside.
Slice the leek and cook in a pan until softened (about 5 minutes). Set aside.
Heat the butter in a saucepan, then add the flour and whisk to a smooth paste for a few minutes. Once it’s turned a toffee colour, slowly add in the reserved milk, one ladle at a time and whisk each ladle thoroughly to avoid lumps. Once all the milk is added, you should be left with a smooth, thick white sauce.
Stir the chicken, tarragon and leeks into the sauce, adding cracked black pepper to taste.
Roll out your pastry thinly on a floured board, ready to top your pies.
At this point, take an individual pie dish or ramekin and fill it with baby’s portion of the pie filling and top with pie crust. Beat an egg and brush over the pie filling, making a small hole with a knife to allow steam to escape. Top with a small twist of cracked black pepper.Now go back to the rest of the pie filling and season generously with salt. Once it’s seasoned to your liking, fill a pie dish, top with the remaining pastry and brush with the leftover egg, again cutting a hole for steam to escape from the top. Top the pastry with plenty of sea salt and pepper.
Cook for about 35-40 minutes in an oven preheated to 180c.
For Mabel’s pie, I left it to cool and then let her touch it and smell it in its entirety. I then removed the pastry and put that and all the filling in a Nutribullet. I blitzed it all together, but only for a few seconds, ensuring it still had plenty of texture.
Each pie was served with mash and veggies.