Wandering around the Pannier’s market in Bideford on a rare sunny day, we popped into a bakery to peruse their wares. Of course in the South West of England a pasty is ne’er far away, but the pie that jumped out at me was the Homity. Truth be told, I can’t remember the last time I chomped through a hearty wedge– no doubt at a WI bake sale or the suchlike – but I now knew what we’d be having for dinner.
The origins of the humble Homity are rather vague. Most likely created as by ingenious cooks during wartime rationing, one thing all agree on is that it is quintessentially British. Potatoes, cheese, leeks and onions encased in a crisp wholemeal pastry shell. Let’s face it, what’s not to like about cheesy mash stuffed into buttery pastry? Yum!
It’s a wonderful frugal vegetarian meal for those who are counting their pennies (like me), though I recommend not skimping on the cheese. Extra mature cheddar is the only way to go, though I do crumble in Wensleydale or Lancashire cheese for their slightly acid tang. I served it with a courgette, rocket and walnut salad and made myself freeze the other half to stop ourselves from eating it in one go…
For the pastry (Sorry I get confused if I don’t use pounds and ounces in baking…)
4 oz wholemeal flour
2 oz plain flour
3 oz butter
A teaspoon of mustard powder
A pinch of salt
For the filling
4-5 large potatoes (about half a kilo) like Maris Piper or King Edwards, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon of butter
2-3 large leeks, halved and sliced quite thinly
1 large onion, halved and finely sliced
250g of grated mature cheddar
100g of Lancashire or Wensleydale cheese (or you can use 100g extra of cheddar if you prefer)
3-4 leaves of wild garlic, sliced finely (or can sub in 2 cloves of crushed garlic)
A couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped off the stems
A couple of sprigs of flat leaved parsley, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
A pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of cream
A generous sprinkling of salt and grinding of pepper
METHOD: Sift the flours into a large bowl and add the mustard powder and a pinch of salt. The butter should be at room temperature. Cut it into a small dice and then use your fingertips to ‘rub’ it into the flour gently until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Unlike bread dough, add as little cold water as possible to bind it into a firm ball – say a tablespoon. It really depends on the flour, humidity, etc. so add less than you think you’ll need to start with. Overworking the dough releases the gluten that makes it pliable and less ‘short’ and crumbly so the trick is to handle it as little as possible. It helps if you’ve got poor circulation and cold hands! If you really want to have a cheese-fest, you could finely grate some parmesan into the pastry just before you add the water. Wrap in cling film and leave aside for half an hour or so.
Put your potatoes onto boil and in a separate frying pan melt the butter to fry your leeks and onions (which are hopefully the same size – if your onions are chunkier give them a head start in the pan). Cook them on a low heat so they soften without browning. If wild garlic isn’t in season or you don’t happen to live near a woodland, add in the crushed garlic cloves when the onions and leeks are translucent and just starting to colour. In other words you are ‘sweating’ them. Watch out, because leeks like to go from raw to charred in a split second if the heat is too high.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain and mash very lightly so the chunks still are recognisable. Gently stir in the leeks, onions, herbs and grated cheese, reserving a handful or two of cheddar for scattering on top. Season generously. Leave to cool.
Roll out the pastry, flipping it over the rolling pin to lower over a 12” quiche or flan tin. Press the pastry into the edges using your fingertips (if you have no nails) or a small ball of dough. I don’t bother blind baking as life’s too short and as the cooled filling isn’t wet I don’t find that it goes soggy. Beat the egg with the cream and nutmeg and fold into the cheesy mash before spooning the filling into the pastry case. Scatter on the remaining cheddar and bake at 180®C for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is pale golden brown. Leave to cool for at least ten minute so it firms up and is easier to cut and serve with a crisp green salad and enjoy!