lambshank pies

The great Aussie meat pie – you’ve gotta love it. Apart from pavlova and vegemite, it’s pretty much the only thing that comes close as our national dish. And while I don’t really agree with the concept of trying to sum up the cuisine of a nation in one particular meal, particularly a nation as multicultural as this one, I must confess that I do have a rather strong attachment to the humble pie.

A few Sundays ago I was lucky enough to be invited on a friend’s boat for a day on Sydney harbour. The plan was perfect: take the boat around to the fish markets, catch our supplies and then settle in for a leisurely afternoon of boating and bbqing. But unfortunately the weather had other ideas and with gale force winds blowing we had to come up with a sneaky plan B.

I had been looking for an excuse to make some pies ever since I came up with the idea for a lambshank pie when compiling my list of five things that everyone should eat before they die. So on a miserable day baking a batch of pies for a disappointed boating party seemed like the perfect solution…all good things…

the plan b pie dinner
potato foccacia with sicilian pesto
lambshank pies with green bean salad
orange & campari creme brulee

potato foccacia with sicilian pesto
serves 6-8 as a starter

Using potato in foccacia was the brain child of Karen Martini in her recent book: Where the heart is. The result is a perfectly textured bread with a lovely complex flavour.

Don’t be afraid of working with yeast. Anything that can be freeze dried and bought back to life with a quick soak in some water has to be pretty tough. The only thing you need to be careful of is the temperature of your water: too hot and the yeast will die, too cold and it will take them forever to get to work. Like Goldilocks you need it to be ‘just right’ – somewhere around body temperature (37C) is ideal but you don’t need to be exact. The water should be slightly warm to the touch but definitely not hot.

I would normally use bread flour but on this occasion I had to resort to standard plain flour as I found weevils in my bread flour stash (yuck). The resulting texture was surprisingly light and fluffy.

2 med red skin spuds, boiled until tender
500g plain flour
2t sea salt flakes
375mL warm water
2 sachets (14g) dried yeast
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs oregano
1/2C black olives, halved and pitted
pesto, to serve

Place water in a small bowl and sprinkle over yeast. Allow to sit for 10mins. The yeast should start to foam slightly.

Place flour and salt in a large bowl and pass hot potatoes through a food ricer (or peel and mash) and add to the flour. Stir to combine then make a well in the centre. Add yeast water and stir to form a dough. Tip onto a well floured workspace sprinkle with more flour and knead until dough is smooth, about 5mins, adding more flour as required, until the dough is just past being sticky.

Lightly oil the large bowl and return dough. Cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm spot to double in size (approx 40mins).

Meanwhile for the topping place tomatoes on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake 180C for approx 15mins or until tomatoes are just starting to shrivel. Combine with remaining topping ingredients and allow to stand.

When dough has doubled, lightly oil a tray approx 30cm x 40cm. Spread dough out onto tray in a rough rectangle shape, cover loosely  with cling wrap and allow to rise for approx 20mins.

Spread topping ingredients over dough and bake 180C for 30 – 40mins or until dark golden. Remove from tray and rest for at least 10mins on a wire rack. When  ready to serve, return to the oven, placed directly on the shelf for 5mins to crisp the bottom and reheat.

Serve cut into fingers with pesto passed separately.

sicilian pesto
makes approx 2C

This nutty pesto recipe was adapted from the talented Melissa of The Traveler’s Lunchbox. It makes a nice change from standard pesto.

1/2C shelled pistachios, toasted
1C blanched almonds, toasted
1/4C pine nuts, toasted
1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 large bunch basil, leaves picked
1/2C flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
1/2C extra-virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients, except oil in a food processor and whizz until nuts are chopped to your liking. I like it fairly chunky and rustic. Add oil gradually while the motor is running to form a thick  chunky paste. Season with s&p.

sicilian pesto

lambshank pies
serves 8

You could substitute in commercial puff pastry if you aren’t in the mood for playing with flour and butter but your pies won’t be anywhere near as rustic. I’ve based my rough puff pastry recipe on Rodney Dunn’s that was published in Australian Gourmet Traveller a few years ago but most recently in the August 06 anniversary edition.

3 large or 4 small lamb shanks
1T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2T ground coriander
1T ground cumin
2 sprigs rosemary
400g can tomatoes
2C chicken stock
2T red wine vinegar
1 egg lightly beaten with 1T milk
for the pastry
400g plain flour
400g unsalted butter, frozen
3/4C ice water
green salad or green bean salad to serve.

For the shanks, heat oil in a large flame proof casserole dish and brown shanks on all sides. Remove shanks and add onion and cook stirring occasionally on a low to med heat until softened. Add carrot, celery, garlic and spices and cook a few more minutes. Return shanks to the pan with the rosemary, tomatoes, stock and vinegar. Wet a piece of baking paper and loosely cover meat. Bake at 160C for 3-4 hours, turning occasionally or until shanks are achingly tender with the meat dripping from the bone. If the sauce hasn’t thickened, remove meat and bring to a simmer on the stove top until the consistency of tomato sauce (ketchup). Tear meat into chuncks, discard bones and combine with sauce and refrigerate until required.

Meanwhile for the pastry. Place flour on a clean work surface and grate over the butter. Using a knife, cut butter through the flour until well combined. Add most of the water and use knife to mix until just combined, adding remaining water if the mixture looks too dry.  You want to handle the pastry as little as possible. Divide into two, wrap each in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 20mins.

Working with one half at a time, roll out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle approx 1cm thick. Fold into thirds and rewrap and refrigerate for another 20mins, repeat with other half. Continue rolling, folding and resting until both halves have been through the process three times.

Preheat oven to 200C and place a heavy baking tray on the shelf. Cut one half into 6 equal portion and roll each into a square large enough to line the base and sides of 6 holes of a large muffin tin or individual pie moulds, leaving some pastry overhanging the edge. Divide the remaining pastry into six pieces and roll each into a square just large enough to top the pies. Divide meat mixture between pies and brush edges with egg wash. Top pies and press down edges to seal. Cut a cross on the top of each pie and brush tops with egg wash. Place pies on preheated oven tray and bake for 30-40mins or until pastry is golden and crispy, it’s better to slightly over cook the pastry rather than leaving it soggy. Serve immediately.

lambshank pies

green bean salad
serves 6

600g green beans, topped
1 large red onion, finely diced
3T Dijon mustard
2T capers, rinsed
1 bunch chervil, leaves picked
1 bunch chives chopped into 2cm lengths
1/4C extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
4T tarragon vinegar

Cook beans in boiling salted water until just tender, approx 4mins. Combine remaining ingredients except herbs and season to taste. Toss hot beans in dressing and allow to stand for at least 10mins. Toss through herbs and serve.

blood orange & campari creme brulee
serves 6

I pinched the idea using the tartness of citrus and the bitterness of campari to  counter the rich creaminess of your classic brulee from Jane Strode in her top little book Twos Cooking. I took it to another level with lovely rose coloured blood oranges.

You could bake the custard in ramekins in the oven (120C approx 50mins) if you prefer but the method below allows you to serve your brulee in pretty glasses.

1L cream 35% milk fat
8 egg yolks
3T campari
300mL bloood orange juice reduced to 30mL
80g castor sugar
castor sugar, extra

Whisk yolks and castor sugar until thick and pale. Place cream in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Pour cream over eggs and combine. Return to saucepan and cook custard over a low heat stirring continuously for 10-15mins or until at least as thick as honey. Be careful not to boil as it will curdle the custard. 

When custard is thick stir through campari and reduced juice. Divide between 6 serving glasses or ramekins and refrigerate until well chilled.

When ready to serve sprinkle tops of custard with a generous amount of castor sugar and brulee with a blow torch and serve.

If you have a new blowtorch that you want to show of and are in for a more interactive meal,  serve custards with sugar and blowtorch passed separately for each guest to do their own bruleeing.

blood orange & campari creme brulee


  • Those pies are a treat. How clever to pinch the last of the cold snaps to fit them in! I have a recipe for Lamb Shank and merlot pies from NZ Cuisine magazine that’s to die for. I love the pastry. It looks great. You’re a brave girl putting a brulee in a glass container!

  • Everything looks beautiful as always, and I think I’ve found a couple more recipes that have made my “must try” list ;) I did actually buy a mini blowtorch today but for the life of me I cannot get any gas into it from my butane gas cylinder! *sigh* And I’d been so excited about trying my hand at creme brulee today too :(

    Is a potato ricer a worthwhile investment? I’ve been looking at getting one, but I just don’t have mashed taters often enough to warrant having it clutter my cabinet :(

  • Serene,
    Beef would definitely work. Probably your best option would be to use osso buco

    Dr Reb
    Yes brulee and glass…I like to live dangerously..although I made sure I did the blowtorching before I’d had anything to drink ;)

    Congrats on your new blowtorch. You need to hold the cylinder upside down. The gas that you’ll feel coming out of the blowtorch should just be air from the blowtorch. It should be full when the air stops coming out or you get some liquid..

    I love my potato ricer…I don’t have mash that often but when I do it’s soo much easier because you just boil the spuds then mash and the skin stays inside the ricer…not need to peel. I also use it as a meat mallet sometimes so it earns it’s keep.

  • Those pies are the way to any mans heart… better lock your doors Jules… add to that the pyromania of the brulee and it’s a done deal.

    Lovely work as always.

  • Oh my!
    Your recipes are absolutely gorgeous!
    The lambshank pies look like a real MUST! My boys (hubby included) will love them – as will I!
    Thankyou so much for sharing your beautiful work!
    You are a master!

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