Nichola is a freelance food writer and cookery editor and a trained home economist.

There’s no denying the overall quality, flavour and texture of many gluten-free products is improving. Still, my heart still sank a little when I found out I’d be judging the Free From category at this year’s annual British Pie Awards held in Melton Mowbray this month.

As fellow judges tucked into steak and ale pies, chicken pies and, of course, pork pies, I braced myself, with three other judges, to tackle the 34 pies in our category.

In fact, we got off to a good start, with a homely chicken and vegetable pie. And from then on, apart from a few soggy bottoms and strange fillings, the standard was high. The winner was a delicious Free From steak and ale pie from the Biddestone Arms in Wiltshire, which offers a separate gluten-free menu to its diners. Who’d have thought a pie without elasticity-giving gluten could work out so well?

Because this lack of gluten makes dough crumbly and therefore difficult to roll out, successful gluten-free pastry needs a little care (see the HFG guide to gluten-free baking in the May issue of Healthy Food Guide, out on 1 May). Adding a little xanthan gum (I use Doves Farm) and using an egg instead of water to bind the dough gives better results.

Now, you may be wondering about the role of pies in a healthy diet, but if the filling is packed with vegetables and the pie is pastry topped only (rather than top and bottom, as required in the British Pie Awards), there’s no reason not to enjoy one now and again.

For all the pie lovers out there, here’s one to make at home. These gluten-free spicy vegetable pot pies were inspired by another excellent Free From pie (Clive’s Organic Gluten-Free Aloo Gobi Pie from Buckfast Organic Bakery) at the awards.

Gluten-free spicy vegetable pot pies

Prep: 15 min + chilling
Cook: 35 min
Makes: 4

For the pastry
200g gluten-free flour (such as Doves Farm plain white flour blend)
1/4tsp xanthan gum
100g dairy-free spread
1 egg, beaten

For the filling
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 tomatoes, quartered
2cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 red chilli, deseeded
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Cooking oil spray
½tsp ground turmeric
1tsp ground coriander
½tsp garam masala
½tsp cumin seeds
150g small cauliflower florets
150g butternut squash, cut into small cubes
1 courgette, cut into cubes
100g frozen peas
2tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1tbsp nigella seeds

1 For the pastry, sift the flour and xanthan gum into a bowl. Rub in the dairy-free spread until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add most of the beaten egg (leaving a little in the bowl to glaze the pastry before baking) and bring together to form a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 min.

2 While the pastry is chilling, blend the onion, tomatoes, ginger, chilli and garlic in a food processor to make a paste. Heat a pan, spray with a little oil, then add the paste and cook for 2–3 min, stirring. Add the turmeric, ground coriander, garam masala and cumin seeds and cook for a further 2 min.

3 Pour in 300ml water and add all the vegetables except the peas. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5 min, then add the peas and cook for a further 5 min until the vegetables are just tender. Stir in the fresh coriander.

4 Heat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6. Divide the filling between 4 x 200ml ovenproof dishes. Divide the pastry into 4 equal pieces and roll out, one at a time, to just larger than the top of your dishes (it will crack slightly, but keep pushing it together with your fingers). Brush the rim of the dish with water, put the pastry over the top and roughly the crimp the edge. Brush with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle over a few nigella seeds. Bake for 20 min until the pastry is pale golden and the filling is hot.

Per serving
9.8g protein
20.7g fat
4.6g saturates
52.6g carbs
7.9g sugar
6g fibre
0.4g salt
111mg calcium
3.6mg iron

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