During this time of sheltering in place, it makes me happy to think about the wonderful places I’ve been lucky enough to visit. My thoughts went back to December, when at Madikwe Hill House in South Africa, I got to enjoy some of Virginia’s wonderful food. This is certainly one of her best.
For the pork filling:
1 pound pork tenderloin
5 ounces pancetta
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tsp finely chopped sage or 1 tsp mint
1 tbsp thyme
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground black pepper
For the hot water crust pastry:
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
3.5 ounces Crisco or lard, cut into small pieces
1.5 ounces butter, cut into small pieces
1 large beaten egg, to glaze
For the filling, roughly chop the pork and put it into a food-processor. Pulse briefly until it looks like coarse minced meat. Be careful not to over-process or it will become too smooth – you want to have a bit of texture. (Or you can chop it very finely with a sharp knife.)
Transfer the pork to a bowl. Finely chop the bacon. Add to the bowl along with the onion, sage, parsley, nutmeg, pepper and a little salt. Cover and chill until ready to use.
Put the flour and salt into a large heatproof bowl, then put the lard and butter into a small pan and pour in 5 ounces water.
Heat this over medium heat so the fats can melt, then raise the heat. As soon as it all comes to a boil, pour it into the flour. (Don’t let it simmer away or you will lose some volume.)
Stir well with a wooden spoon until well mixed to form a soft dough. Leave it for a minute or two so the dough is a bit cooler to handle.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly until smooth. Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for 30–40 minutes. Try not to leave it much longer as this type of pastry can easily harden over time and become difficult to handle.
Lightly butter 6 small ramekins. Preheat your oven to 400.
Divide the meat filling into six equal amounts.
Cut the dough in half and keep one half wrapped while you shape the other half into a disc and roll out on a well-floured surface, to about 1/4 inch thick. Using the rim of a bowl or pan, cut out three 5-6 inch circles for the base of each pie and three 3 inch circles for the lids. Re-roll any pastry trimmings if needed so you can cut out all three lids.
Line three of the ramekins with the larger circles, pressing the pastry well against and up the sides, pressing and smoothing it with your fingers so it evenly covers the inside of the dish, smoothing out any thicker folds that have formed. It should reach just above the top of each dish.
Spoon a portion of the filling into each cup and press it down so that it is well packed. It should sit slightly below the top of each one.
Brush the pastry edges with egg and cover with the pastry lids, pressing them down onto the filling. Press the edges well together to seal, then flute them with a fork.
Brush the pastry with the beaten egg, then make a hole in the middle of each lid to create a small vent. Repeat with the remaining half of the pastry and filling so you have six pies.
Place the pies on a baking sheet and bake for 40–45 minutes until the pastry is a rich golden brown.
Remove them from the oven and let them sit for about 30 minutes. While they’re still warm, and in case any juices have bubbled over and stuck to the insides of the tins, loosen all around the edges of the pastry to make sure they can easily be released later. Leave the pies in their dishes until completely cooled and the juices have all gone back into the meat, before serving.
I hope you’re staying safe and finding ways to keep sane. For me, that means closing my eyes and re-traveling - to Africa, to the Galapagos, to Paris, to Venice, to Tibet, to Tuscany, to India. And of course, my kitchen.