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November 30, 2013

Culinary Conversation: Got turkey leftovers? Achieve pot pie perfection

NEW YORK — Now is when the menu changes, when pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil retires to also-ran status, when the prospect of gravy makes our mouth water.

Foods of fall and winter are all about comfort, about settling in, about spending a bit more time in the kitchen because the tennis nets at the park have been packed up for the season.

It’s time for pot pie.

Time, that is, for really good pot pie — which some people have never experienced, if their experience is limited to most grocery freezer cases. Convenience is a contemporary argument, but there’s a tipping point between saving time and sitting down to a decent meal.

We’ve tipped in favor of making homemade pot pie, with a crust that’s both flaky and flexible, and a filling that you can customize to your heart’s content as long as you honor the final proportions.

Turkey is our protein of choice, because the holidays are here, and such leftovers are plentiful. But with half-breasts more available, you can roast just enough turkey within an hour to make six pies. Swap in chicken, or go vegetarian with more of the pot-pie trinity: potatoes, carrots and peas. Experiment with other vegetables, such as turnips, rutabaga, pearl onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, corn or peppers.

We favor the classic trio, but add a twist and some texture with some crumbled bacon.

We won’t lie: Pot pies from start to finish take a little time. The pastry comes together quickly, but must rest in the refrigerator for an hour. The vegetables need to be par-cooked for a few minutes to make sure they’ll cook through in the oven. The gravy is best when you give the onions at least 15 minutes to melt into savory goodness.

If you’re tempted to skip the egg glaze, don’t. It lends the pastry a luscious golden crackle, but also is oddly affirming. Taking the time to paint the whole surface of the pastry with care, instead of a slapdash splash across the top, is what cooking with love is all about.

Since you’ve come this far, cut a few leaf shapes from the dough scraps to make your pies even more appetizing. Painting the leaves with a bit of paprika-tinted egg yolk takes about as long as reading this story, and guarantees an “ooh-ahh” reaction at the table that makes every minute worthwhile.

And this is before your diners have even taken a bite!

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