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A Succulent Piece of Pie

February 29, 1996|JANET HAZEN | Hazen is a San Francisco freelance writer, restaurant critic and former chef. She is author of 14 cookbooks, including "Hot, Hotter, Hottest," "The Chicken Soup Book" and "Pears."

I used to turn my nose up at the mere mention of potpie, and if you grew up on the frozen supermarket version, you know what I mean. Then I was treated to a fine homemade rendition and was converted forever.

Potpies are simple to make from scratch, and you can choose whatever filling ingredients your heart and taste buds desire. Start with a combination of vegetables and meat, poultry, fish or seafood; add sauce or gravy to bind the ingredients; place everything in a baking dish; cover with some sort of crust; and bake until the potpie is cooked and piping hot. Shredded cheese, toasted nuts, cooked grains, fresh or dried herbs and spices are often added for extra flavor, texture, color and nutritional value.

The traditional version is usually capped with standard pie dough (some have a bottom crust as well), but if your pastry skills are shaky or if you're pressed for time, commercial (refrigerated) pie dough and frozen puff pastry, various biscuits and dumplings, buttered sheets of filo dough or bread dough can also be used.

There are two ways to assemble and bake the filling and crust: Bake the filling and topping separately and join them during the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking, or cook the filling and topping together from start to finish.

Both methods have advantages. Your potpie will be glorious either way.

WINTER VEGETABLE MEDLEY WITH PUFF PASTRY

Vegetarians will love this flavor-packed potpie topped with flaky rich puff pastry, and any vegetable lover will relish these winter flavors. Look for puff pastry in ready-to-bake sheets (2 folded sheets per package) in the freezer section of most grocery stores. This recipe can be made with just a top crust and no bottom. You can also use individual oven-proof dishes rather than one large baking pan; cut the puff pastry into smaller pieces to fit inside each dish.

1 (17.4-ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets

3/4 pound small Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

2 large red boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 carrots, trimmed and cut into small rounds or half-moons

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juice

2 teaspoons dried thyme

Salt, pepper

Thaw puff pastry at room temperature about 20 minutes. Cut each sheet into 3 rectangles, about 3x10 inches. Place 3 strips on ungreased cooking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each one. Bake at 400 degrees on bottom rack 10 minutes. Rotate to upper rack and bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes more. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Bake remaining pastry and cool on rack.

Bring 3 quarts salted water to boil in large pan. Add Brussels sprouts, potatoes, squash and carrots; stir well. Return to boil and cook until tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain well and transfer to large bowl. Add garlic, tomatoes and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix gently until sauce is smooth.

Cover bottom of greased 13x9-inch baking dish with 3 strips puff pastry. Evenly spread vegetable mixture over pastry. Bake at 375 degrees on center rack 30 minutes. Remove from oven and top with remaining 3 strips puff pastry. Bake 15 minutes longer. Cut into squares to serve.

Makes about 6 servings.

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