I admit I don't really know what tamale pie should taste like, as I've never had one I didn't make. It sounds like one of those tex mex dishes based on wonderful Mexican tamals, which I have had and like very much. But no matter what ur-tamale pie actually is, I know what I want it to be: tasty moist cornbread with a layer of meat, vegetables, and cheese in the middle. So I fiddled and fussed and adapted, till I came up with this recipe, and I need to write it down here so that when I want to make it again I'll remember how.

What you'll need to make tamale pie for four

For the filling

For the cornbread

What to do:

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and brown ground meat (if using), breaking up any chunks with a wooden spoon. When meat has lost its pink colour, add onions and saute till translucent, then add garlic, pepper and spices and saute for another minute. Finally, add the tomatoes, olives (and cooked chicken, if using), stir to combine, and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400°F (210°C). Generously grease an 8 inch (20 cm) square glass baking dish.

Heat the water or stock till just boiling, then remove from heat. In a large bowl, combine baking powder and salt, then whisk in the oil. Add both cornmeals and stir to coat with oil, then add the reserved hot liquid. (It will fizz; that's why the bowl is a large one.) Stir well and let cool for five minutes. The batter should have thickened slightly and absorbed most of the liquid; if there's still lots of visible liquid, add more masa or fine cornmeal, one tablespoon at a time, till the liquid is mostly absorbed. It'll still be very moist, though. Mix in the egg.

Pour all but 3/4 cup (180 ml) of the batter onto the bottom of the greased baking dish. Spoon the filling onto the batter and sprinkle with cheese. Mix 2 tablespoons (30 ml) hot water into the remaining batter and pour evenly over the top of the pie. Bake about 40 minutes, till well browned. Let sit 5 minutes before eating.