Vegetable confusion - and Lamb and squash pie

I’ve been shopping in Lidl. Lidl in Wick, in the far north east of Scotland. A dour town, as are many up here, built in grey stone. There's a shopping park on the southern approach boasting Homebase, Pets R Us and all those sort of regulars. And a large, modern Lidl, possibly the best that I have been into.

 Home-grown Florence-style aubergines

Home-grown Florence-style aubergines

I needed a few veg and there is no longer a greengrocer in the middle of town. There, amongst the usual selection of sprouts and cabbages, lemons and under-ripe tomatoes I began to muse on the whole idea of central ordering and keeping the same assortment on offer, wherever the store is. How many cases of aubergines would be sold in Lidl in Wick per day? Of course I might well be underestimating the market and, at 39p each, they were a great addition to my pasta and salmon. But in a store full at lunchtime of secondary school kids buying Pringles, iced buns and Pepsi Max, I have my doubts that some of the veg will move through all that quickly.

I spotted 3 cauliflowers looking fresh and tempting in a supermarket in Fort William when we arrived on a Friday evening. By my last visit to that store on the Sunday there were still 3 on the shelf, looking rather less perky and ‘take me home’ than they had on the Friday. Veg need to be turned round quickly and at sensible prices. Maybe that is why Lidl is doing so well in communities of traditional and immigrant cooks? 

So now I am feeling guilty about a butternut squash - although I know in truth I have no reason to do so. Grown at our community garden in Sussex it has travelled up here with us. Some became a delicious pie in Fort Augustus, with lamb, black pudding and Black Isle Brewery Red Kite ruby ale. The remainder was cooked and some served with salmon and braised cabbage: the rest appeared again as salad. That squash has travelled many more miles than I would have thought possible as I planted the seed last spring. I guess what is important, always, is just knowing the provenance of your food.

Lamb & squash pie

Serves 6-8

Add some black pudding to this if you like - or a small amount of haggis. About 150g of either is plenty. I used porridge oats and not oatmeal to thicken the meat on holiday and it worked just as well. Add any black pudding, chopped, to the cooked meat before putting it into the pastry.

8 shallots
1 small butternut squash
500g diced lamb - leg holds it’s shape better than shoulder
25g butter
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp oatmeal
250ml beer
2 bay leaves
350g plain flour
175g butter, or butter and lard mixed

  1. Peel the shallots and cut them in half if large (or chop a large peeled onion). Peel, seed and cut the squash into 1 - 1.5cm dice.
  2. Heat the butter and oil together in a flameproof casserole, add the shallots and cook quickly until browned, then add the lamb and brown that too. Add the squash and cook, covered, for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in the spice and oatmeal and cook for a few seconds, then gradually add the beer, stirring all the time. Add a little water if necessary to cover the meat and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Add the bay leaves with some seasoning then cover and cook slowly for 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Do this on the hob at a slow simmer or in a slow oven at gas mark 3, 160℃, 325℉ - I have left mine in the Simmering Oven of the Aga for a couple of hours. Season the mix again when cooked then allow it to cool completely if possible (it helps to bake the pastry crisper!)
  4. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 200℃, 400℉. Mix the flour with a little salt in a bowl, add the butter or fat cut into small pieces and blend the fat into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles fine crumbs. Mix to a stiff dough with cold water.
  5. Lightly form about 1/3 of the pastry into a smooth ball on a lightly floured surface, then roll out to cover the base of a 21-23cm dished pie plate - an enamel one is best. Spoon the lamb and squash mix into the pastry (with black pudding if used), then roll out the remaining dough and use to cover the filling. Damp the rim of the bottom crust with cold water, then seal the two edges together by pressing them firmly but lightly. Use any trimmings to make pastry leaves and use a little water to stick them to the crust. Brush lightly with milk.
  6. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and crisp. Serve with fresh seasonal green veg or fabulous standby frozen peas or baby broad beans.