My mother has this Christmas cactus that has been in my parent’s house since the dawn of time. At least for as long as I can remember, anyway. And all while I was growing up I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why it was called a “Christmas cactus” specifically. I reasoned that it had something to do with the colors, the cactus tentacles are a deep green and the flowers are a nice burgundy red. But here’s the reason I had trouble figuring it out: Christmas cacti are supposed to bloom in the winter. But my mother’s poor cactus is hopelessly out of season. It blooms in the spring, or mid-summer. My years of confusion were justified: my mother’s cactus has an identity crisis.
I’m sort of like that cactus. Especially when it comes to baking. I bristle under seasonal baking. Not because I don’t like the fresher ingredients, I do. But for whatever reason it’s always in the dead of summer that I yearn for potpie, or in the throes of a particularly cold winter that I want the most complicated bread that needs super extra rising time in temperatures approaching the climate of a tropical rainforest. Funny story, I know. What makes it even funnier though? Like most apartments in New York I don’t have an air-conditioned kitchen, and while there is this thing by the window that I think is supposed to be a heater, I’ll be damned if it produces any heat. So you can be sure that in the dead of summer my apartment is about 15 degrees warmer than it is outside (despite the arsenal of fans I have set up to produce a dizzying number of cross breezes); and in the winter it’s a solid two degrees above freezing. Really complicates my out of season baking habit. Doesn’t stop it, though.
And that’s how it came to be that in the last week of July, after a particularly grueling heat wave (almost 100 degrees every day for several straight days) I decided I was going to roast me a chicken. And then the following week I made myself a banging potpie out of the leftovers. Never mind that my kitchen felt like the gateway to hell, a blistering inferno that even the cat refused to lounge in. I was going to make that pie and sweat my way through every delicious bite afterwards. And so I did.
Here’s why I really like potpie though. When you finally realize that you need to clean out your freezer, before it turns into the next portal to Narnia with all the crap that’s cluttered in there, you’ll often find you have most of the filling ingredients for a potpie. There’s that frozen chicken or turkey breast stuffed in the back that you swore you’d do something fancy with, and several packages of pearl onions, peas and carrots and/or broccoli that you bought at the store when they were on sale (or that you roommate bought because he’d heard that vegetables were good for him). And those pre-packaged pie crusts that were meant for glory but got lost behind the mountains of frozen-God-knows-what. So toss it all on the counter to thaw (which in the heat of summer should take roughly 3.5 seconds) and you’re halfway there.
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted butter and leave out the salt listed later)
- 1 cup chopped onion, or 1 cup frozen pearl onions thawed and roughly chopped
- salt and pepper to season
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken stock or broth (bouillon cubes dissolved in water will also work)
- 1 cup half and half, or ½ cup milk + ½ cup cream, or just 1 cup milk
- 2 cups shredded, cooked chicken or turkey
- ½ cup carrots chopped
- ½ - 1 cup frozen peas thawed
- ½ - 1 cup frozen broccoli florets
- Heat oven to 400F.
- Melt the butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium-high heat (I used my Le Creuset dutch oven, but I’m sure any sauce pan will do)
- Chop the onions and add to the butter until translucent and fragrant (best smell ever, amirite?) about 4-6 minutes. Add the flour and stir quickly to form a roux (paste in French) and lower the heat so it doesn’t burn.
- Add chicken stock and let simmer for 4-6 minutes until it thickens. Don’t skim on thickening in this step, or you’ll end up with a very runny filling that is a nightmare to slice.
- Once thickened add the half and half and dump in the remaining ingredients and stir. Remove from heat.
- Grease the bottom of a 9” pie plate, unroll one piecrust in the bottom making sure it’s flush with the edges. Pour in filling and top with other piecrust. The filling will come pretty close to the top of your pie plate, but don’t panic. If you thickened it enough you’ll be fine. Crimp the edges as you see fit (or are able to do) and cut slits in the top for vents. If you don’t cut vents your pie will explode, you have been forewarned.
- Bake on a baking sheet (to catch any spill over) for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden. If the edges look like they’re browning too quickly cover them with a tinfoil band part way through baking and return to the oven.
- Let cool on a cooling rack and enjoy!
- Makes one 9-inch pie, which serves about 8-10 depending on how big you cut your slices. It will keep in the fridge for about 5 days wrapped in plastic wrap and tinfoil.