Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Root of All Goodness - Roasted Root Pie

It is a rich, historical tradition, food, files…and convicts. Smuggling implements hidden in the bellies of freshly baked cakes to aid the escape of prisoners from the belly of the beast is a well-worn cliché in many a crime drama. With the sophistication of today’s metal detection systems, it’s difficult to imagine that passing contraband could be as easy as taking candy from a baby. Pip is just such a baby.

Phillip Pirip, known throughout his life as Pip, is among Charles Dickens’ most celebrated protagonists. In a galaxy of supremely complicated and revered novels including Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, Great Expectations is a tale of an orphan’s long and painful coming of age in the age of Victoria, where children are harshly raised “by the hand” and an exacting class system takes its toll on everyone.

It is on Christmas Eve when Pip, visiting his parents’ tombstones on the bleak marsh landscape, encounters Abel Magwitch, an escaped convict, his ankles shackled in irons, his heaving great mass soaked to the bone. It is not difficult for Magwitch to bully the terrorized boy into bringing him some “wittles” and a file. As much an act of Christian charity as to keep the boogie man away, Pip returns to the graveyard with the ragtag spoils of a hasty raid on his shrewish sister’s larder:

“…I stole some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat (which I tied up in my pocket-handkerchief with my last night’s slice), some brandy from a stone bottle (which I decanted into a glass bottle I had secretly used for making that intoxicating fluid, Spanish liquorice-water, up in my room, diluting the stone bottle from a jug in the kitchen cupboard), a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round compact pork-pie…”
Magwitch does not forget the kindness when days later, caught by the authorities, he confesses to the thieveries to spare Pip the punishment certain to be inflicted upon him as an accessory. This is but one spectacularly rendered episode of compassion which hurls Pip’s life on a meandering and fantastic trajectory defying what anyone could have predicted for him. Pip’s course ultimately falls far short of its potential, but for the reader who endeavors to follow him along his path of fortunes and failures, Great Expectations is a story you will never want to escape from.

Roasted Root Vegetable Pot Pies – My own recipe


1 two-crust pastry recipe or store-bought pie crusts of your choice (I used this classic short crust recipe.)

Chanterelle Mushroom Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)

1 cup rutabaga (a.k.a yellow turnip or swede), peeled and diced (about 1/3 of a large root)
1 cup white turnips, peeled and diced
1 large baking potato, peeled or well-scrubbed and diced
1 cup parsnips, peeled and cut into coarse matchsticks
2 carrots, peeled or well-scrubbed, cut into coins
1 cup pearl onions, peeled with ends trimmed (I used red pearl onions.)
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or mild-flavored oil (I used ghee.)

[Tip: Vary size of dice for each vegetable for additional texture.]


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the ghee or oil in a large cast iron skillet or roasting pan just until it thins out. Remove from heat and add all of the vegetables, tossing gently to coat in the fat. Position skillet/pan on center rack of oven and roast for 40 minutes or until vegetables are browned and crusty. Turn vegetables several times during roasting to ensure even browning.

Meantime, prepare the Chanterelle Mushroom Béchamel Sauce:


1/3 cup fresh or dried chanterelle or other robust mushrooms, coarsely chopped (I used dried which have to be chopped after reconstitution.)
¾ cup water

2 tablespoons butter or oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups milk or cream, any fat content
1/2 cup mushroom stock
1 teaspoon salt (or adjust to taste)
½ teaspoon black pepper


In a small saucepan, simmer mushrooms in water over very low heat until water reduces to about 1/2 cup and browns into a stock. Remove from heat and set aside. Chop reconstituted dried mushrooms now if you have used them.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, prepare a roux by mixing the flour with sizzling butter or oil until all the flour is absorbed and smooth. Allow to cook a few minutes until thick. Using a wire whisk, beat in a thin, steady stream of the milk and mushroom stock until fully combined. Add salt and pepper. Beating constantly to prevent lumps, cook the sauce until it thickens again, allowing it to bubble without scorching. Remove from heat and set aside.


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Fill four 4-5 inch diameter ramekins to the rim. Roll out pastry to a thickness of ½ inch. Cut 4 squares of pastry about 1 inch longer than the edges of the ramekins, reserving any leftover dough for another use.* Position a pastry square evenly over top of each ramekin, allowing the corners to drape over the sides. [Optional: Brush a bit of beaten egg mixed with chopped parsley over the tops of the pastry squares.] Carefully cut small vents into the pastry squares to allow steam to escape. Bake on a cookie sheet for approximately 35 minutes or until pastry is fully browned. Ramekins will be very hot; please use caution. Serves 4. --

* For simple jam-faced pastries, roll out leftover dough then cut into shapes. Place pieces on ungreased cookie sheet and spread with preserves or sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in 400 degree F oven for approximately 20 minutes or until pastries are brown and topping is bubbly.

This post is being submitted to Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste, hosts of Novel Food, a four-seasons blogging event featuring all meals great and small, and the pages they spring from.


Been There, Done That ~


Crumb-Topped White Peach Pie
Rosina (Funeral)Pie

Other People's Eats ~

Mini Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pies
Chicken Pot Pie


  1. Great Expectations is a story you will never want to escape from. - you're right, I want to read more.

    I know that I've said it before but I love, love, love your prose.

  2. Awesome. Both the post and the recipe. You too fell for the charms of the chanterelle like Lucy did?

  3. This is beautiful from all perspectives: from the choice of novel, to the recipe, to the writing and the photos. Yours is a great tribute to a beloved character of a beloved author. Thank you so much.
    Have you seen the movie where Robert De Niro plays Magwitch?

  4. a creamy vegetable pie is such great wintery food - I am sure it would have been a great comfort to him if Magwitch had been treated to such a pie!

  5. great expectations have etched a deep mark even from my school days! and you have done justice as usual by your beautiful and detailed prose! as you know i just love it! I might not be trying out all your recipes but i do love to read your posts !wish you and ur dear ones a wonderful xmas

  6. oh what a lovely post..i enjoyed reading it..too bad it ended soon...

    im just wondrin when is well seasoned cookbook is coming out??with all the great recipes you are posting you deserve to have one...!!i'll be the first client :-)

    not to mention the great shots too!!

  7. A beautifully written post and a stunning pie to match! I haven't read Dickens since schooldays, I suppose I should dig them out and get my nose into them but I'm lucky if I have time for trashy newspaper these days!!

  8. Quite blown away.

    You know, I've always been afraid of Dickens - the sheer length has always put me off - but I read Bleak House two years ago and was pleasantly surprised. Great Expectations is now on the list too.

    Spectacular pie, gorgeous photos and another outing for that letter press. Ah, winter...

  9. Oh, yum...this looks like exactly what I crave on cold nights. I have to make this! Great tie-in to Dickens...and perfect theme for the holidays.

  10. Hooray! I'm so glad you made this post--I'll try my darndest to make this event this time.

    I've been wanting to make pot pies again soon, and I think this recipe sounds fantastic. It's been cold in Wisconsin!

  11. Ah, Susan I had such a hard time with Great Expectations in high school, as an adult it's such a different story.
    Lovely recipe and story.

  12. Cynthia – Thanks always… on two counts!
    Thank you, Suganya. Lucy had been talking up chanterelles for a while now. ‘Shroom fan that I am, these woodsy morsels (not to be confused with morels!) are in the permanent rotation now.
    Dear Simona – Thank you. I haven’t seen the De Niro version. I have been so spoiled by the Lean film, that I am reluctant to give it a try. Having said that, Richard III (quite a different author, I know), with Ian McKellan as the titular king, was excellent despite it being reset in modern times. I’ll put De Niro in the queue.
    Hi, Johanna! There is something both robust and humble about a pot pie. I grew up on the frozen ones, but never lost my fondness for them.
    Nanditha – Thank you. That you are a regular reader is gratifying enough. The recipes are a matter of personal taste. Thanks for your holiday well wishes, too.
    Thanks, Dhanggit! Yes, it ended too soon, but to have expanded the post would have given away an extraordinary story that deserves to be read front to back.

    I haven’t thought that far ahead to a cookbook. Right now I am just enjoying the blog as such.
    F&P – Thanks. Trashy newspapers (and magazines) do have there place. I don’t buy them, but they are the first thing I reach for at the hair salon or doctor’s office.
    Lucy – Thank you always. Dickens is a haul, for sure, but since you started with “Bleak House,” (brave girl) you should be able to master “Great Expectations” in less than half the time. It is literally a slim volume in comparison and perhaps 20 less characters in the mix.
    Hi, Jeni! How are you? It was a pleasant accident that “Great Expectations” opens on Christmas Eve. I’d completely forgotten about it, but it made for an even more compelling entry to this season’s Novel Food event.
    Hi, Ruhama! If anyone would enjoy participating in Novel Food, it would be you. I know that when you do get the time, your entry will be worth the wait. Good to see you!
    Thanks, Tanna. How are you? “A Tale of Two Cities” was my intro to Dickens as a freshman in high school. We eased into other tomes after that. I’ve never lost my love of the author.
    Thanks, Sra! Good to see you again after your holiday!

  13. Susan, lovie ~ You can't go wrong with a good pot pie, and I'm glad that yours includes rutabaga, a great root vegetable for stewing.

    Individual servings are a treat and make such a lovely presentation in ramekins.

    The chanterelle bechamel sounds luxurious, but I might have to get E. to try it first...I'm still on a mushroom learning curve.

  14. there is something so exotic about the root veg, love it. as for the pastry i take the short cut, if i don't see the amount of butter that goes in, i don't feel as guilty

  15. Susan, your recipe captures the essence of Dickens and Great Expectations, one of my favorite Dickens' book, as does your root vegetable photo, which is quite marvelous. "Meandering and fantastic trajectory" - a great phrase and worthy of Dickens. Wonderful post!

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