I have friends who still swoon, 30 years down the line, at the memory of this dish, which my mom made at least once a week when I was a teenager. There is nothing dainty about this recipe. It's a rib-sticking dish of tinned asparagus mixed with cheesy white sauce and eggs, in a rather stodgy wholewheat-flour-and-oil crust, topped inelegantly with fresh breadcrumbs.
Some of the best lunch parties I can ever remember featured this legendary pie.
I love this recipe not only for the happy memories it evokes, but also because it reflects the beginnings of the wholefood/health food/vegetarian trend: ie, wholewheat flour, not white; oil, not butter; veggies, not meat. Besides, it's incredibly yummy.
My parents were heavily into Health Food (it all started when they read Let's Get Well by Adelle Davis; more about that in this post), and this dish was the thin end of the wedge.
For the pastry shell:
1 cup (250 ml) white flour
1 cup (250 ml) wholewheat flour
1 1/2 t (7.5 ml) salt
2/3 cup (160 ml) sunflower or light vegetable oil
4 T (60 ml) milk
For the filling:
60 g butter
5 T (75 ml) white flour
2 cups (500 ml) milk
2 cups (500 ml) grated Cheddar
4 tsp (20 ml) Dijon mustard
3 T (45 ml) lemon juice
3 T (45 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tins of asparagus salad cuts, drained (each tin about 450g nett weight)
2 large eggs, lightly whisked
salt and a little white pepper
1/2 cup (125 ml) fresh breadcrumbs, brown or white
Preheat the oven to 180°C. First make the shell. Generously grease a large ceramic or earthenware pie dish. Tip the flour into the dish, add the salt, oil and milk and mash it all together with a fork until it forms a lump. Using your thumbs, press the mixture thinly across the base, and up the sides of, the dish. Don't bother about a neat edge, or about baking this shell blind - it's supposed to be rough and ready.
Now make the filling. First: a white sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a high heat. When the butter stops foaming, tip in the flour and stir vigorously to make a paste. Allow to bubble for a minute or two, but do not allow to brown. Now tip in all the milk and, using a ballon whisk, stir wildly to disperse any lumps. Continue stirring constantly until the mixture becomes smooth and thick. When the sauce comes to the boil, turn down the heat and allow to bubble gently for three minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and tip in the grated Cheddar, stirring well until the cheese has melted. Set aside to cool for five minutes. Now stir in the mustard, lemon juice, parsley, asparagus and beaten egg, and season well with salt and a little white pepper.
Tip the mixture into the prepared pie shell, and sprinkle with fresh bread crumbs. Place in the oven, and bake at 160C for 25-35 minutes, or until the pie is slightly puffed, and no longer wobbly in the middle.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a while. Best served lukewarm, with lashings of home-made mayonnaise and a heap of tuna salad (trust me on this).