Chicken pot pie is comfort food perfect for winter's chill

Chicken pot pie is one of those classic comfort foods. This one is thick with carrots, potatoes and kale and goes straight from the oven to the table.

ILEANA MORALES | Special to the Times

Chicken pot pie is one of those classic comfort foods. This one is thick with carrots, potatoes and kale and goes straight from the oven to the table.

A sponge cake waits on the kitchen counter. Several candles are lit and the flames flicker in front of kids eager to blow them out. My grandfather starts his song. We shout along.

Ya queremos pastel. Aunque sea un pedacito, ya queremos pastel."

A dessert lover's rendition of the happy birthday song, "We want cake. Even if it's just a little piece, we want cake now." Everyone from Miami knows this song. Sometimes my abuelito started the song before the cake was even brought to the table. He couldn't wait for a piece. Or two.

He kept a blue tin of Danish butter cookies permanently parked on top of the fridge. Mini candy bars were in the hallway closet. To his delight, my sister and I baked him pineapple upside down cakes.

His sweet tooth runs deep in this family. My mother is a fanatic for chocolate of any kind and is not to be trusted with unattended desserts. My sister bakes brownies and banana bread nearly every weekend. Lila, the little one, will take any and all candy.

Through my education in sweets, I was well-versed in cake, flan, tres leches, cacao (a Nicaraguan drink that is the best version of chocolate milk) and Oreos dipped in peanut butter, but my knowledge was lacking in one particular subject: pie.

Sure, we had key lime, but it ends there. I did not grow up knowing the pleasure of breaking through flaky layers of buttery crust and into jammy fruit. A pastelito de guayaba is not quite the same as a slice of cherry pie.

But now I've moved out of my mother's kitchen and into my own with a guy whose grandmother made pie every weekend. I learned how to roll out this dough and we've since made pie and several of its cousins, including galettes and quiches.

Chicken pot pie is my latest love. I serve it up slab-style in a large baking dish that goes straight from the oven to the table. It's comfort food with an unbelievably flaky top layer right at home in February. The filling reminds me of chicken soup but it has been thickened with flour and enriched with cream. The vegetables for the filling can be tweaked according to what you have or what you like, but either way I wouldn't be surprised if after one bite you find yourself singing a little song, "We want chicken pot pie. Even if it's just a little piece, we want chicken pot pie."

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at alittlesaffron@gmail.com.

>>Moderate

Chicken Pot Pie

For the pâte brisée crust:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes

¼ to ½ cup ice water

For the filling:

6 cups chicken broth

2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 pound potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large bunch lacinato kale (or another dark leafy green like collard greens), leaves cut into about 1-inch pieces and stems discarded

1 pound shredded and cooked chicken (from a roasted 3- to 4-pound chicken)

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter

2 large leeks (white and green pale parts only), sliced crosswise

2 large shallots, minced

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup dry white wine

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the crust: Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a stand mixer or food processor. Add the butter and combine at slow speed or pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with different sized pieces of butter, including some larger pieces. Drizzle ¼ cup ice water over the mixture. Mix or pulse until the mixture just starts to hold together. Add up to another 1/4 cup ice water, a tablespoon at a time, if the mixture is too dry.

Divide the dough in half and place each on a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap loosely with the plastic and press into a disc using a rolling pin. Refrigerate until firm, wrapped well, for at least 1 hour (and up to one day).

Roll out one disc on parchment paper into a rectangle slightly larger than your baking dish.

(Makes enough dough for one 9-inch double crust pie or two 9-inch single-crust pies. This recipe is for a single-crust pie so the other disc of dough can be reserved for another use.)

To make the filling: Pour 6 cups chicken broth into a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrots and potatoes. Simmer uncovered until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer vegetables with slotted spoon to a buttered 13- by 9-inch buttered baking dish. Add kale into broth and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer greens with a slotted spoon to the dish with the vegetables.

Add shredded chicken to dish with vegetables. Transfer the broth to a large bowl.

Melt butter in the Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in leeks, shallots and thyme. Saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Add flour and stir for about 2 minutes. Pour in 4 cups of the reserved broth and white wine. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir constantly. Mixture will start to thicken. Add cream and stir frequently, cooking until sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and carefully stir to combine the ingredients evenly. Let mixture cool for about 45 minutes. Filling can also be made one day ahead. Just cover and refrigerate.

Heat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the top third of the oven and a baking sheet on the bottom rack.

To assemble: Turn the dough over onto the filling. Use the parchment paper to help you turn it. Cut slits in crust to allow steam to escape.

Place dish on top rack and bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves about 6.

Sources: The filling is adapted from a recipe in Bon Appétit; the pâte brisée is from Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts.

Chicken pot pie is comfort food perfect for winter's chill 02/17/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 17, 2014 2:14pm]

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