Swede. Let’s face it, it’s not the most exciting of vegetables. The mere sound of it is almost groan-inducing. “What’s for dinner?” “SWEDE.” Of course, this would never happen, nobody would just have swede for dinner, I’m just trying to paint as bleak a picture I can to prove my point. I still have nightmares about the old school dinner staple, mashed carrot and swede, plopping on to the side of my plate, water seeping everywhere because it hadn’t been drained properly. It was completely tasteless bar the overwhelming flavour of black pepper, sprinkled over liberally. Even with the resurgence in using root vegetables in new and creative ways, in cakes, for example, the swede has been left well behind, burned into our memories as nothing more than a sub-par side dish.
Despite this, there are many reasons to buy swedes: they are cheap, can be grown locally and are in season for a whopping six months, largely from September to March. The challenge, of course, is finding ways to use them that don’t involve the potato masher and pepper mill. They are great in all kinds of soups and stews and give a sweet peppery flavour that works well with red meats and other root vegetables. Earlier this year, a Herne Hill veg bag scheme, Local Greens, held a contest to Redeem the Swede – a cookery competition for which all entries had to contain swede in some form. The three top prizes went to a shepherd’s pie topped with swede instead of potato, a Thai green papaya salad with swede instead of papaya, and a swede curry. Somebody even developed a swede ice cream – you can read about it here.
Being somewhat less creative than the swede-buying residents of Herne Hill, my favourite use for this most humble of winter vegetables is in the classic Cornish pasty. Despite ever only visiting Cornwall in the summer, I always associate the pasty with being a winter dish because of the combination of steak, potato, swede and onion. That, combined with the rich puff pastry, usually made with lard or dripping, is a great insulator for a cold day. The pastry is time-consuming to make, but the pasties are remarkably easy. The filling ingredients are simply chopped and folded into the pastry raw, then cooked in the oven. This means you cannot check whether the pasty is properly cooked, but if you stick to the cooking times, it is likely that it will be so. The crimping around the edges is what characterises it as a Cornish pasty – legend has it that the crimped edge was never supposed to be eaten and was a convenient, discardable handle to allow miners to eat the filling without contaminating it with their dirty hands. It is likely, however, that this is a myth and the pasties were eaten end to end – the crimping simply being a decorative way to seal in the filling.
This recipe deviates slightly from the traditional recipe, which adds no more than a sprinkle of salt and a twist of pepper to the filling by way of seasoning. It was just a little too bland, even with the animal fats in the pastry, so I added two very non-traditional ingredients to perk it up: a beef stock cube and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. You could make a gravy if you so desired, but be sure to only coat the ingredients as any excess liquid is sure to seep through the pastry. This recipe makes about six medium-sized pasties.
For the pastry:
- 300g plain flour
- 80g strong white bread flour
- ½ tsp fine salt
- 75g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 150g lard or beef dripping, cut into small cubes
- 150ml cold water
- 2 egg yolks, beaten
For the filling:
- 200g beef – skirt if you can get it, braising steak if you can’t, diced
- 150g potatoes, diced
- 150g swede, diced
- 2 small onions, chopped
- 1 Oxo beef stock cube
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
Put the flours and salt in a bowl and toss through the cubes of butter and dripping. Add the egg yolks and water and mix together until they form a dough. Leave to stand in the bowl for 30 minutes.
Flour the work surface and roll the dough out to a large rectangle. Fold the dough over four times then roll out again and fold in the opposite direction. Place the folded dough on a wooden chopping board, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere cool for 30 minutes, perhaps next to an open window in winter, or in a cupboard in summer. Repeat this process twice more at 30 minute intervals, finishing with a third rolling before the pastry is used.
For the filling, combine the ingredients in a large bowl. Dissolve the stock cube in the Worcestershire sauce and toss through the ingredients until coated. Season well with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6. Roll out the pastry and cut into the size of circles that you want. Spoon the filling on to the middle of the circle, ensuring that there is enough space around the edge for crimping. Fold the pastry over and crimp to seal using your thumb and forefinger. Place the pasties on an oiled baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 150ºc / 300º f / gas 2 and cook for a further 20 minutes until browned.