(Bloomberg) -- Simon Hopkinson is a softly spoken and almost self-effacing chef who never needs to shout to gain attention. It’s more than 25 years since he ran a restaurant, yet to this day he has a voice that’s heard in kitchens and homes across the U.K.
He was born in Lancashire, in northern England, and left school at the age of 17 to become a chef. He’s best known for opening Bibendum restaurant in London, with the late Sir Terence Conran, in 1987. Simon walked away from the kitchen in 1995 and his influence lives on, both through the chefs who worked with him and also through his food writing and TV shows.
He says he’d rather be known as a cook than a chef, and he favors simplicity and clean flavors over ornamentation and ostentation. For Bloomberg, he’s agreed to share one of his most famous recipes, My Mother’s Lancashire Cheese and Onion Pie. (It appeared in The Good Cook, published by BBC Books, with photography by Jason Lowe.)
It’s a popular recipe whose punchy flavors have made it a favorite for many home cooks over the years.
I decided to go the whole hog and try making the pastry, rather than buying it from a supermarket. It was actually my first attempt at pastry and it was more difficult than I had expected. I struggled for more than an hour to get the right consistency of the dough so that I could pick up a sheet and lower it into a tart tin. It kept breaking up and I hesitantly added water until I got it more-or-less right.
Another time, I would just buy it. My other (slight) regret was that I used standard supermarket cheese rather than anything more fancy. Lancashire cheese has a tanginess that was missing and it’s worth spending more for a variety such as Kirkham’s to get bigger flavors.
For the pastry:
60 grams (2.1 ounces) butter
200g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
2-3 tablespoons ice-cold water
For the filling:
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 teacupful of water
salt and plenty of freshly ground white pepper (it does not taste quite correct, using black)
250g-300g Lancashire cheese, coarsely grated
a little milk to both seal and glaze the pastry
To make the pastry, cut the butter and lard into small chunks and place in a large bowl with the flour and salt. Gently rub the fat into the flour using the fingertips until the texture resembles very coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in only enough water to bind the mixture together. Lightly knead this dough until well amalgamated, dust with flour and slip into a plastic bag. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes before using.
Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius/356 Fahrenheit/gas mark 4 and also place a flat baking sheet in there, which will help to cook the base of the pie more evenly.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Melt the butter in a roomy pan and add the onions. Allow to quietly wilt and stew for about 10 minutes over a gentle heat without coloring. Tip in the water and seasoning and continue to cook over a similar heat, stirring occasionally, until almost all the liquid has been driven off. Decant the onions on to a plate, spread them out and allow to cool.
Lightly butter a loose-bottomed tart tin, approximately 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) wide x 4cm deep. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry moderately thin and use it to line the base and sides of the tin. Now roll out the remainder to a similar thickness and also generously wide enough to use as a lid for the pie. Cover the base of the pie with half the onions and cover with half the grated cheese. Repeat.
Brush the edges of the pastry case with milk to seal the pastry lid upon it, while also pressing the edges together lightly before trimming off any excess overhang. Brush the surface of the pie with milk. Make three small incisions into the center of the pie, using the point of a sharp knife and, if you wish, further decorate the edges of the crust with the tines of a fork.
Put the pie on the preheated baking sheet and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 40-50 minutes, or until golden and with a clear indication that tiny oozes of cheese and onion juices are bubbling up through the holes in the middle. Remove from the oven and leave for a good 20-30 minutes before unmolding and cutting into generous wedges for four. Best served warm or at room temperature.
Richard Vines is Chief Food Critic at Bloomberg.