The mention of chicken pot pie brings back memories for many of us. I recall Saturday lunches as a kid, begging for pastry-rich pot pies, pulled straight out of the freezer (thank you, Swanson). These mini tins of buttery crust and super-gravy filling offered chunks of chicken and an occasional chunk of carrot or celery. I realize now there is no definitive description of what we each deem comforting, whether it has a crust, biscuit or dumpling as part of it. My mind always heads toward pastry toppings, but I dare you to google “pot pie.” You’ll pull up so many iterations that you could bake one every week for a year and never exhaust the options.

Here’s what I consider essential for a chicken pot pie:

Good cooked chicken. This can come from that leftover rotisserie chicken or from poaching and shredding boneless breasts or thighs — or a whole chicken, which will also provide a lovely broth.

Chunks of root vegetables and aromatics. Some prefer only creamy chicken in their filling. But I do like the bite of some flavor-filled vegetables, with carrot or parsnip, onions or leeks, and celery or even rutabaga, chopped baby potatoes, or fresh fennel thrown into the mix. Maybe there’s a handful of tender peas. The key to the filling’s taste is it being cooked slowly in olive oil until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned.

Flavorful broth. Pot pie gravy is the binder that holds all the good stuff in the dish, so it calls for the best ingredients. A rich chicken broth is classic, seasoned with dried herbs such as thyme, sage, fresh parsley and a good grind of fresh pepper.

Something starchy. A short pie-pastry crust, flaky puff pastry (from the freezer aisle is fine), rolled or cutout biscuits, or plain-old dumpling dough will do the trick. I’m not a fan of crust-lined pies; it’s too much dough. I think a good topper pastry or biscuit is nicest, but it depends on your preference. And there’s always the option of a creamy mound of mashed potato — russet or sweet — as a topper.

Really, a pot pie is nothing more than an ingenious way to use up cooked chicken and bits of vegetables in the refrigerator. Prepare a filling and have it on hand for quick weeknight meals, baked to order in individual ramekins or oven-safe mugs.

Lisa Golden Schroeder is a food stylist and writer. Find her at foodesigns.com.

Personal Chicken Pot Pies

Serves 4.

Note: Making little pastry-covered pies was once a creative way to use leftover chicken or other meats. Now we just love them for their warmth and comfort. The filling for these little ramekins can be doubled and made ahead of time if you want to serve them to more than your family. To serve this pot pie family-style, spoon the filling into a 2-quart casserole. This is absolutely perfect for a weeknight supper, since it can make it to the table in just 30 minutes They can also be assembled ahead and frozen in 5-inch foil pot pie pans, then baked on demand while still frozen. Cut pastry into wedges or into fluted rounds with a biscuit cutter. You can also use other pastry or cookie cutters to make different shapes. From Lisa Golden Schroeder.

Filling:

• 2 tbsp. butter

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 2 leeks, halved, thinly sliced

• 1 large carrot or parsnip, chopped

• 2 ribs celery and some leaves, chopped

• 1/2 c. baby button mushrooms, sliced

• 1/2 c. flour

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1/2 tsp. dried thyme

• ¼ teaspoon crumbled sage

• Freshly ground pepper

• 1 quart chicken broth

• 3 c. chopped cooked chicken

Pastry top:

• 1 sheet rolled refrigerated pie pastry (from a 15-oz. box)

• 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp. water

• Garlic salt

Directions

Heat butter and oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leeks, carrot, celery and mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned.

Stir in flour, salt, thyme, sage and pepper. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes, until mixture is pale golden brown (mixture will be lumpy).

Whisk in broth. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook 8 minutes or until thickened. Stir in chicken.

Spoon chicken mixture into 4 (12- to 16-ounce) baking dishes; refrigerate for 20 minutes or until room temperature.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Unroll pie pastry; cut into desired shape to cover filling. Lay pastry on top of each baking dish. Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with garlic salt.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbling.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 595

Fat 29 g

Sodium 1,570 mg

Carbohydrates 44 g

Saturated fat 11 g

Added sugars 0 g

Protein 37 g

Cholesterol 145 mg

Dietary fiber 3 g

Exchanges per serving: 3 starch, 4 lean protein, 3 ½ fat.

 

Barbecue Chicken Shepherd’s Pot Pie

Serves 5.

Note: From Lisa Golden Schroeder.

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 1 lb. ground chicken or turkey

• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

• 4 plum tomatoes, chopped

• 1/2 c. ketchup

• 2 tbsp. cider vinegar

• 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

• 1 tbsp. molasses

• 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

• 1 (15-oz.) can pinto beans, rinsed, drained

• 3 green onions, chopped

• 1 (24-oz.) pkg. refrigerated plain or sour cream and chives mashed potatoes

Directions

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes. Crumble in ground chicken; season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir until chicken is no longer pink.

Stir in tomatoes; cook and stir 4 minutes. Mix ketchup, vinegar, mustard, molasses, Worcestershire, beans and onions; stir into skillet and simmer 1 minute.

Heat broiler to high. Spoon chicken-bean mixture into 5 (8-ounce) ramekins or oven-safe bowls. Heat mashed potatoes in microwave 3 minutes on high heat; stir until smooth. Spoon evenly on top of each ramekin. Broil 6 inches from heat until potatoes begin to brown.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 395

Fat 16 g

Sodium 910 mg

Carbohydrates 47 g

Saturated fat 6 g

Added sugars 7 g

Protein 19 g

Cholesterol 70 mg

Dietary fiber 7 g

Exchanges per serving: 2 starch, 1 carb, 2 medium-fat protein, 1 fat.

Chicken Pot Pie With Rosemary Garlic Biscuits

Serves 6.

Note: This generously portioned one-dish dinner is a fusion of creamy pot pie and casserole. Feel free to substitute your favorite winter squash or root veggies in the filling. Topped with easy drop biscuits (or sub in refrigerated biscuits), this is a welcome supper any quiet evening at home. From Lisa Golden Schroeder.

Filling:

• 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided

• 1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-in. pieces

• Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

• 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 2 c. chopped butternut squash

• 2 c. quartered Brussels sprouts

• 2 ribs celery, sliced

• 1/4 c. white whole-wheat flour

• 1 c. chicken broth

• 1 1/2 c. low-fat milk

• |1 tsp. dried herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning

• 1 c. shelled edamame (if frozen, thawed)

Biscuits:

• 3/4 c. white whole-wheat flour

• 1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed

• 3/4 tsp. baking powder

• 1/2 tsp. garlic salt

• 1/4 tsp. baking soda

• 5 tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces

• 1/2 c. low-fat buttermilk

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 3-quart casserole dish or 6 individual ramekins.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper; sauté about 6 minutes or until no longer pink. Transfer to a bowl.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in skillet; add onion, squash, Brussels sprouts and celery. Cook and stir about 10 minutes or until vegetables are nearly tender. Meanwhile, mix flour into broth until well blended.

Add milk to vegetables; reduce heat and stir in broth mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Return chicken to pan with edamame; season with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to casserole.

To make biscuits, mix all dry ingredients in medium bowl. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut in butter until the texture is pebbly. Stir in the buttermilk just until mixture is moistened.

Drop batter in 6 mounds on top of chicken mixture. Bake about 20 minutes or until filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 460

Fat 23 g

Sodium 520 mg

Carbohydrates 32 g

Saturated fat 9 g

Added sugars 0 g

Protein 35 g

Cholesterol 140 mg

Dietary fiber 6 g

Exchanges per serving: 2 starch, 4 lean protein, 2 ½ fat.

Farmhouse Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 6.

Note: Traditionally a shepherd’s pie contains leftover roasted lamb — an easy way to use leftovers in a comforting one-dish recipe. This version is updated using fresh chicken and topped with mashed golden potatoes and cauliflower — a modern nod to upping the vegetable ante in a rustic home-style recipe. From Lisa Golden Schroeder.

• 2 tbsp. olive or canola oil, divided

• 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1/2-in. pieces

• 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

• 1 medium red onion, chopped

• 1 medium rutabaga, chopped (2 c.)

• 3 medium carrots, sliced

• 4 oz. button mushrooms, chopped

• Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

• 1 tbsp. cornstarch or potato starch

• 3/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth

• 1/2 c. frozen peas, thawed

• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary, divided

• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage, divided

• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme, divided

• 1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into chunks

• 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets (4 c.)

• 1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Oil a 2-quart casserole or baking dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; sauté chicken and garlic about 5 minutes; remove to a plate. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet; add onion, rutabaga, carrots and mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir about 8 minutes or until softened.

Stir cornstarch into chicken broth until dissolved; pour into skillet and bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in chicken, peas and half of herbs. Spoon into prepared casserole dish.

Meanwhile, fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Cook potatoes and cauliflower for about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain well.

Place potatoes and cauliflower in a large bowl. Mash until just smooth; stir in egg and remaining herbs. Season well with salt and pepper.

Spoon potato-cauliflower mixture over the top of the chicken filling in the baking dish. Spread to entirely cover the top, swirling with the back of a spoon.

Bake casserole 25 to 30 minutes or until top is golden brown and crisp.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 290

Fat 8 g

Sodium 125 mg

Carbohydrates 32 g

Saturated fat 1 g

Added sugars 0 g

Protein 23 g

Cholesterol 70 mg

Dietary fiber 7 g

Exchanges per serving: 2 starch, 2 ½ lean protein.