Venison & Bacon Pie

This might seem like quite an odd recipe for the beginning of July, but it was pouring with rain the other day and I knew just what we needed to cheer us up. This rich, unctuous stew is the ultimate rainy day indulgence, with thick gravy, golden pastry and a generous serving of buttery mash. The secret ingredient is a single square of very dark chocolate - trust me, it turns this pie into something really special.

300g diced venison
200g bacon lardons
A large double handful of button mushrooms
1 large onion
2 large garlic cloves
2 glasses of red wine
2 tbsp gravy powder
1 square of dark chocolate
Half a 500g block of ready-made puff pastry
A splash of milk, to glaze
For the mash:
2 large potatoes
A generous splash of double cream
50g salted butter
1 tsp French mustard
Green beans or peas, to serve

Serves 4

The pie filling is pretty easy to make, but to really create those lovely deep flavours it needs about two and a half hours in the oven, so start early. Preheat the oven to 180°C (170°C fan). Finely dice the onion and garlic and get them gently sizzling in a pan with a generous scoop of butter. While they soften, roughly chop the mushrooms and cut the venison down to bite-sized pieces (if needed).

Once the onion is nicely translucent and soft, add the mushrooms, with a good sprinkling of thyme and a bit more butter (this is a properly indulgent pie, so there's no place for oil). Give the mushrooms a minute or two and then add the bacon and the venison, and season. While the meat browns, make up 500ml of gravy with the gravy powder (just in case you don't know, you must make gravy with cold water, or you'll get jelly!)

Once the meat has just browned (don't fry it for too long), add the red wine with a generous hand, and then top up with the gravy so that it only just covers the meat - you might not need all of it. Finally, add the chocolate and stir for a few minutes so that it has definitely melted through. At this point you'll be able to smell it quite strongly, but don't worry about it overpowering the other flavours, as it will mellow. Transfer the pie filling to an ovenproof dish, filling it almost to the top but not quite - leave about 2cm for it to bubble a bit without overflowing - then place in the oven for two and a half hours. Every hour or so, give it a gentle stir just to make sure the ingredients on the top aren't drying out.

About half an hour before you want to serve, remove from the oven to top it off. Roll out the pastry (you'll only need half of the standard 500g block, so you can keep the other half to make my Cheat's Pastries) and lay over the top of the dish. Trim around the edge with a knife, leaving a good couple of centimetres' overlap all the way round, as it will contract in the oven. Use a pastry brush to lightly wash the top of the pastry with milk, and then return to the oven for half an hour.

Finally, peel and chop the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, and boil for about twenty minutes. You'll need to prepare your choice of green as well. To finish, drain almost all of the water from the potatoes (leave just a bit behind) and mash vigorously with the butter, cream, mustard and a good pinch of salt.

To serve, dish up the mash and greens, and then bring the pie to the table in all its golden puffed-up glory. Fabulous.