A couple of weeks ago I found myself in something of a menu vacuum.
That's what happens when I have enough food on hand that I don't feel like it's time to go to the store, but what I do find in the refrigerator and pantry cupboard are mismatched items that I had never intended to put together into one dish.
On this particular occasion, the refrigerator held some leftover meat, enough extra pie dough to make a double-crust pie, some cheese and a few eggs. In the crisper drawer I found a few stalks of celery, and I had an onion on hand.
A peek into the cupboard located an odd assortment of canned vegetables, but the item that really caught my eye was a can of asparagus pieces, which I had once intended to pulverize for a souffl
As a fan of fresh asparagus, I see very limited utility in the canned stuff, and this seemed like a good time to get rid of it.
I briefly pondered the idea of making an asparagus quiche, but discarded it because I didn't have enough eggs. Instead, I opted to make a pot pie of sorts.
The ingredient list for such a creation might have included any combination of vegetables carrots, green beans or peas, for example. Had I found mushrooms in the refrigerator, I certainly would have tossed them in, too.
The pie also could have been meatless, but in this case I went with ham. Chicken or turkey would have worked equally well. To use beef, I would have wanted to build a beef sauce instead of the white sauce I went with.
I also decided against a pie with a runny filling, which would cost me an egg, and to keep the seasoning simple, because the asparagus and ham have fairly strong flavors and I was using onion and celery. These were subjective decisions, though, and on another day with a slightly different lineup of ingredients, I might have spared the egg and added an herb or two to the sauce.
Then I threw the thing together, baked it and served it up. The results were more than satisfactory, and the leftover pie also tasted pretty darned good reheated in the microwave.
There's nothing special about this particular list of ingredients, but I have included the recipe so that the basic pie concept can be repeated with whatever ingredients other cooks have at their disposal.
This is one of those meals that it would be difficult to do wrong, and leaves plenty of room for some simple creativity through improvisation.
dough for double-crust 10-inch pie
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
dash red pepper
1 egg, well-beaten
1 cup asparagus pieces (1 14 1/2-ounce can, drained)
2 cups ham, cooked and diced
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Roll out the bottom crust for a 10-inch pie and lay it into the plate. Cover the pie plate with plastic wrap and set aside.
In a medium sauce pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter and sauthe onion and celery. When the onion is clear, use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetables and set them aside.
Add the remaining two tablespoons of butter to the saucepan, and make a white sauce using the flour and milk. When the sauce begins to thicken, add salt, the black and red pepper, and then the egg. Stir until well-mixed and remove immediately from heat.
Unwrap the pie plate and spoon in the meat, grated cheese and vegetables. Pour the white sauce over the pie ingredients.
Roll out the top crust, lay it on top of the pie, pinch the edges and cut slits in the top crust.
Bake the pie for 35 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.