Celery and Walnut Pies

These light little pies should be served hot but they can be made ahead and re-heated. Serve them, if you like, as a first course; I make a cold sauce to accompany them from a can of chopped tomatoes, seasoned with a real bite of cayenne pepper (chilli powder) and a little lemon juice; or serve them as something to nibble during one of the drinking moments of Christmas. The pies have a flaky, cheesy pastry which is quickly made.

Ingredients

For the filling

  • 2 celery hearts, weighing about 12-14 oz (375-425 g) in total
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 2 oz (50 g) butter
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml spoon) dill seeds
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml spoon) plain flour
  • 8 fl oz (250 ml) milk
  • 2 rounded teaspoons (2 x 5 ml rounded spoons) whole-seed mustard
  • 18 walnut halves
  • 3-4 good pinches of cayenne pepper (chilli powder)
  • salt

For the pastry

  • 8 oz (250 g) plain flour, plus extra for rolling
  • ½-1 teaspoon (2.5-5 ml spoon) salt
  • about 6 oz (175 g) frozen butter
  • 2 oz (50 g) mature Cheddar cheese, grated coarsely
  • 6-7 tablespoons (6-7 x 15 ml spoons) cold water
  • milk

Method

Make the filling first. Chop the celery hearts into small pieces. Peel and chop the garlic finely. Melt the butter in a largish frying-pan, add the celery and cook it over a gentle heat, stirring now and then, for 10-15 minutes, until soft. Then add the chopped garlic and the dill seeds and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour. Then gradually stir in the milk. Put the pan back on the heat and let it bubble, stirring all the time, for about 3 minutes, until thickened. Stir in the mustard. Season to taste with salt and the cayenne pepper (chilli powder). Turn into a bowl, cover with a piece of greaseproof paper and leave on one side to cool.

Now make the pastry. Sift the flower and salt into a bowl. Holding the block of frozen butter in a cloth at one end, grate if coarsely, mixing it into the flour a bit at a time with a fork.

Then fork in the grated cheese. Finally mix in the cold water with a fork until the dough begins to stick together. Gently press it together into a ball and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes or more.

Roll out just under three-quarters of the dough on a floured surface to about -inch (3 mm) thick. Cut out 18 rounds with a 3-inch (7.5 cm) diameter pastry cutter and line the tins. Pile a heaped tablespoon of the filling in each round and then place a half-walnut on top of the filling. Roll out the remaining dough and, using a -inch (6.5 cm) cutter, cut out another 18 rounds to top the pies. Put the tops on and press the edges to seal. Cut a slit in the top of each pie for the steam to escape.

Heat the oven to Gas Mark 7/425°F/220°C. Brush the tops of the pies with milk. Cook them in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. After removing them from the oven leave the pies to rest in the tins for 8-10 minutes before gently easing them out with a knife and transferring them to a cooling rack, or a plate if you are serving them immediately.

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