Nigel Slater’s recipes for festive main courses

Deep and crisp and even: a lovely Christmassy chicken, leek and prune pie, and a sweet potato and spinach tart

‘Feels like a celebration’: chicken, leek and prune pie.
‘Feels like a celebration’: chicken, leek and prune pie. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
‘Feels like a celebration’: chicken, leek and prune pie. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
Nigel Slater
Sun 13 Dec 2020 05.30 EST

A pie, or perhaps a large golden tart, brought proudly to the table in its dish, always feels like a celebration. I find such recipes invaluable at this time of year, for meals that need something “festive-but-not-turkey”. So it’s straight down to business with a chicken and prune pie wrapped in crackling filo and a sweet potato and spinach tart that works as both a principal dish and on the side.

Chicken, leek and prune pie

I have used filo pastry for its crispness, but you could use puff pastry if you prefer. Serves 4-6

olive oil 2 tbsp
chicken breasts 750g
leeks 350g
curry powder 2 tsp
prunes 12
curry leaves 10
parsley a good handful, chopped
black peppercorns 8
light stock or water 600ml
milk 500ml
butter 50g
plain flour 50g

butter 80g, melted
filo pastry 300g

You will also need a round 28cm baking tin

Warm the oil in a deep-sided pan, add the chicken and let it lightly brown on both sides, turning it once or twice to ensure an even colour. Once the outside is golden brown, remove the chicken and let it rest on a plate.

Trim the leeks, discarding the darkest green ends of the leaves, slice them into rounds 1-2cm thick, then wash them thoroughly in a colander under cold running water. Shake the leeks dry, add them to the pan in which you browned the chicken and let them cook over a low to moderate heat, lid on, for 10-15 minutes until they have softened a little. Stir occasionally to prevent them from browning.

Stir in the curry powder and continue cooking for a couple of minutes, then add the prunes, curry leaves, chopped parsley and peppercorns, lightly cracked – use a pestle or heavy weight, but don’t grind them to a fine powder – then pour in the water or stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, add the chicken and leave to simmer for 35 minutes.

Warm the milk almost to boiling point in a small pan then remove from the heat. In a separate pan, melt the butter, add the flour and stir over a moderate heat for a couple of minutes until pale biscuit- coloured. Add the milk in small amounts, stirring until smooth with a wooden spoon – I use a whisk to beat out any annoying lumps – then stir in a couple of ladles of the stock from the chicken pan.

Remove the chicken and slice it into strips, then add it to the sauce. Combine with the leeks and aromatics and check the seasoning: it will need salt. The consistency should be thick and creamy. If not, then let it simmer until it is.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Place a large baking sheet in the oven to get hot. (It will help your tart to develop a crisp base.) Brush the base of the baking tin with a little of the melted butter. Generously butter 2 leaves of pastry, then place them in the tin, letting them hang over the sides. Repeat, placing the pastry at a slight angle to the others, again letting their excess length hang over the edges. Continue buttering and layering until you have used up all the pastry.

Spoon the chicken filling into the dish then fold the buttered overhanging pastry over the top to create a crust. (They won’t quite cover the top of the pie, leaving a hole in the centre, which is fine.) Place the dish on the hot baking sheet in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes until the pastry is deep brown and crisp.

Sweet potato and spinach tart

‘It’s good cold too’: sweet potato and spinach tart.
‘It’s good cold, too’: sweet potato and spinach tart. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

Let the tart settle for 20 minutes or so before slicing and serving it. It’s good eaten cold, too. Serves 6

For the pastry:
plain flour 200g
butter 100g
parmesan 2 tbsp, grated

For the filling:
sweet potatoes 600g
spring onions 4
eggs 3
cream 375ml
spinach 100g
parmesan a little to finish

You will also need a rectangular tart tin measuring 30 x 20cm

Put the flour and butter into a food processor and reduce to fine crumbs. If you prefer, rub the butter, cut into small pieces, into the flour with your fingertips. Add the grated parmesan and enough water (about 1-2 tbsp) to make a firm dough. Wrap in kitchen paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Make the filling: put a deep pan of water on to boil and place a steamer basket over the top. (I often use a colander instead.) Peel the sweet potatoes, then slice them into thick rounds. Steam the sweet potato slices for about 7 minutes until tender to the point of a knife.

Meanwhile, finely slice the spring onions. Break the eggs into a large bowl or jug and beat them briefly, then mix in the cream, season with salt and black pepper. Wash the spinach, remove any tough stems, then cook the still wet leaves briefly in a lidded pan until they start to wilt. Drain and gently squeeze dry.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.

Roll out the pastry and line the tart case, trimming the edges as necessary. Line with baking parchment and baking beans and bake for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 8 minutes or until the pastry is dry to the touch. Lower the heat to 180C/gas mark 4.

Place the sweet potato slices in the tart tin. Tuck the spinach among them and scatter the spring onions, then pour in the custard. Sprinkle with parmesan and bake for 25 minutes until lightly set.

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