Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's a Pasty!

September is particularly chilly in Marquette, Michigan. My roommate Jessica's family cabin was located on Lake Superior and she had invited 10 of our closest friends to spend Labor Day weekend there in September 2000. We had underestimated the rapid temperature decline that far north as soon as summer was over. Bundled up in sweatshirts and jeans, we took windy walks on the beach, played pool at empty bars with locals giving us dirty looks, and searched for a local specialty - pasties.
Not to be confused with pasties. One is a meat and potato and rutabaga filled pastry and the other is an adhesive strip that is literally the fine line between going topless and not. We were looking for the first. Although the men (with 14 year old teenage boy mentality) liked to say we were looking for the second.
They are spelled differently in the singular (pasty vs. pastie) and pronounced differently. Paaaasties are a comfort food. Pay-sties sound uncomfortable to remove.
The origin of a pasty is actually England, Cornwall to be specific. Why this savory turnover became a local specialty in Marquette must have something to do with the English origins of the locals. I love a savory turnover. It has all the elements of a hearty meal (meat, potatoes, bread) in a tidy package. A good crust is key, as is a good steak which steams inside the package and becomes quite tender. Other versions of this food I enjoy are Jamaican meat pies (look for them in the Montego Bay airport for $2 each), my mom's kheema (ground and spiced goat meat) stuffed in bread and pressed in a panini press, or Chinese crescent moon turnovers filled with curried ground chicken.
The pasties we found in Marquette were traditional. The pasty recipe I found in Bon Appétit this month was modern and slightly upscale, as BA tends to be. But it had all the comfort of a good pasty. The crust was excellent. Because it requires a significant amount of chilling time in the fridge, I made it the night before in my food processor, blending shortening, butter, flour, salt, baking powder, and ice water into a sticky dough. I divided it into equal portions and wrapped it in plastic. I also caramelized some onions and refrigerated them overnight. The next evening I cut up some steak (tri-tip from Trader Joe's) and crumbled some blue cheese (goat cheese blue cheese from Whole Foods, a creamy not too strong blue). I rolled out the dough into circl-ish shapes and piled on the onions, steak chunks, and blue cheese. After brushing the edges with egg white, I folded and sealed the dough. The style of folding is up to you though ideally the package is a half moon shape with prettily crimped edges. But I was hungry and the dough was sticky so I ended with some odd shaped packages. I cut slits in the top to let the steam out, and put the pasties in a 400 degree oven for half an hour.

My pasty didn't end up being a perfect shape but it was steamy and moist inside, flaky and buttery on the outside. By itself and this size, it makes a satisfying meal. The recipe for four pasties can easily be made into six smaller portions and served with salad or other side dishes. It's plenty of food. But please pronounce it correctly when you serve it.

Beef Pasties with Caramelized Onions and Stilton Cheese

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