As savory and alluring as a pot of stew can be, it’s rarely charismatic enough to hold its own as the centerpiece of a blowout holiday feast. There’s no amount of chopped parsley on top that can adequately dress up that long-simmered brown underneath; a stew, by nature, is always more cozy and homey than fancy and showstopping.
But pour that same stew into a pastry crust and bake until its buttery surface turns golden and glistening, and you’ve got a spectacular main course that’s ready for a star turn.
You can do this to pretty much any thick stew and get excellent results. This time, I went meatless, riffing on a chickpea-filled vegetable tagine rich with sweet spices and minced preserved lemon.
Since the best stews can be quite involved — all those vegetables to chop and sear, plus a long, slow bubbling on the stove — I’ve kept the pastry simple and used a prepared phyllo rather than homemade dough.
Then I streamline things some more. Phyllo recipes can be fussy, calling for buttering each fragile, gossamer (and now sodden) piece before stacking them one on top of another.
Instead, I use a trick I learned several years ago while making a feta torte. After assembling everything in the pan, I poke holes in the dough and just pour the melted butter on top. It seeps between the layers beautifully and bakes up burnished, crisp and shiny. And using a sheet pan means that this pie can wow a crowd and feed it, too.
You can make the stew the day before (stews are easygoing like that), then reheat it gently so it’s warm when it meets the phyllo. This ensures that the filling will end up piping hot and the pastry nicely browned at the same time. If you’re using the optional feta, add it immediately before baking: You want each salty, creamy nugget to remain a distinct bite, rather than melt into the already silky mix of cauliflower, sweet potatoes and zucchini.
Bold and bronzed, this blockbuster pie doesn’t need much garnish. A handful of chopped mint lends it a pop of color and freshness, and if you want more bling, a scattering of pomegranate seeds will add a ruby glow. It proves that hiding in every humble stew pot is a great beauty waiting to emerge. All it takes is a little change of wardrobe.