Beef and Bean Pie, in Honor of National Pi Day

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Beef and Bean Pie by Angela Roberts

Today is national PI day, not to be confused with national PIE day. But what the heck? So let’s talk math and update a 1950’s meat pie by adding a ton of nutritionally dense beans and using ultra grain flour.

If I had a diner, I would name it Retro Rose, after my mother, and it would serve all of her famous dishes, that I would describe as gourmet comfort food. It’s not the ease of the 1965 shake and bake or the 1971 hamburger helper. Never, not ever! It’s what an Italian home cook would do who adapts well to the local cuisine without compromising freshness, taste and quality. It’s food that we would all choose to eat, if we really led an active life style and were able to buy all of our meat and vegetables from sustainable farms without chemicals, hormones and scary additives. And, we could eat more of this food if we didn’t chase it down with a gallon of sugary something, followed by a chip and dip snack. It would be a dinner to look forward to with no guilt, no pretense, just true goodness. A meat pie, made from scratch used to be a Wednesday night supper and no one was fat!
So has Americana fare gotten a bad rap? Is comfort food the culprit of today’s alarming obesity rate? Well, I could probably write a book, right here, right now on this topic, but I won’t bore you. I’ll challenge you to rethink your opinion of comfort food, and evaluate it on the terms of goodness. Is it good for you? Can it be reconstructed to be a wealth of taste and nutrition? Can fat, carbs and goodness harmonize?

Retro Rose doesn’t really care about the carbs, calories or fat content of a dish. Really, she doesn’t, so when she made us a meat pie last year, I confess my fears to eat it. I was counting the cost…to my body. But, who can resist a golden pie crust? When I bit into her pie, that was bursting with five different legumes, I got the shock of a lifetime. Beans in a pie is outrageously good. And, I don’t mean good FOR you, which is true. I mean, so good to taste, that we couldn’t put our forks down. And, out of all of the most very lovely food I prepared and ate last year, and my dining out experiences in the wine country, San Francisco, and Denver, nothing compared to the taste experience of this meat pie.

Retro Rose does not make the same old recipe again and again. She changes it up (so that’s where I get this creative bug) and this time, she added no less than five types of legumes to her pie. It seems so basic, beef and beans, that it’s surprising even to me that I am nearly fireworks excited to tell you about it.

It’s just that good. Something about the beans flavored by a homemade beef stock, with a roast beef that’s been braised for hours and then nestled between an herb-infused buttery crust (okay, the herb crust is my creation) that takes your taste buds, stomach and part of the brain that says “food satisfaction” on a ride into space and back again.

There are NO potatoes in this pie as they tend to get mushy and ruin the brightness of the dish and the beans are enough comfort. I used organic carrots, sweet onions, celery and tarragon as my personal herb of choice. I only used 3 legumes, but you could experiment with that too as long as one of the beans was lima, fava, or butter beans and one was peas. You certainly could experiment with other herbs, but tarragon is used in bernaise sauce and I thought it to be quite a good fit for beef.

Don’t let all the instructions scare you. Outside of the pie crust, this really is a “feel your way through recipe.”

Beef Bean PIe with Herbed Pie Crust

Beef stock
Fresh herbs (I used tarragon, bay leaf)
Slow cook, braise, slow roast, YOU decide.
You can also use stew meat or any left over roast.

Inside Pie:

  • 1 cup carrots,
  • 1 cup celery
  • 2 cup onions (ratio is 50% onion, 25 % carrots, 25% celery) finely chopped for
  • *1 cup each: lima beans, cannellini beans, frozen peas
  • olive oil
  • chuck roast yielding 1 1/2 cups of meat (use more or less, your decision)
  1. Saute onion with butter and olive oil in cold pan for two minutes. Add celery.
  2. Add beans and broth just to cover.Thicken meat/bean stew with gravy as needed.

When you make the gravy for the pie, go light and don’t use too much.
I kept the pie fairly dense.
You can thicken with a slurry of flour (2 tablespoons) and 1/2 cup COLD water.

Herb Pastry Crust

  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 4 -6 tablespoons cold water

Optional herbs for pastry: Add your own choice of fresh herbs, chopped finely. I used tarragon, but other herbs would be nice. Thyme, basil, rosemary, sage, parsley.

  1. Chop tarragon (or herb of choice) very finely and mix evenly into flour.
  2. Cut butter into flour. Do not over blend. You want your pie crust to be like tiny peas.
  3. The goal is to have a crust that has granules of butter that are released during the baking, so you don’t want your butter and flour to be blended to a paste.
  4. Add cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
  5. Divide into to sections, one for top, one for bottom.
  6. Roll out on a floured surface. I used a stainless rolling pin that I keep in fridge.
  7. Divide the dough into two pieces. Place bottom in dish. Prick with fork all over.
  8. Place parchment paper over shell, cover with pie weights, dry beans, or dry rice.
  9. Blind Bake bottom shell for 20 minutes at 400.

After the bottom bakes, fill with meat and bean filling, place top piece, brush with milk, and bake for 30 minutes, or until top is browned.

There was enough pastry for a rectangular pan and a few small tarts.

Notes: This might seems like a lot of work, but here are some ways to make it a bit easier.
Use some of your left over frozen beef stock. Boxed organic beef is a second choice.
Slow cook a chuck roast overnight, the night before you put this together. In the morning, cool, strain fat. Cut meat, place in fridge.
Make pastry the night before and refrigerate. Or use store bought.
Cut onions, carrots night before. Place in bag.

Cannellini beans are a favorite, originally from Argentina, they are now referred to as an Italian white bean, nutty and smooth, great in soups or salads, or simply warmed and topped with olive oil. Cranberry beans would also be a good substitute.

Optional: Make mini pies with top crust only, make a lovely lighter lunch.

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