Shepherd’s Pie, also known as Cottage Pie, is a meat and vegetable pie with a potato crust. First mentioned in cookbooks in the UK and Ireland in the 1800s it was a hearty way for farmers to make a meal using leftover meat and potatoes from the field.
It was also a staple of my diet when I was growing up in the 70s. My mother made it all the time. What could be easier, for a young working mother of seven, than sautéing onions and ground beef, adding a few packages of frozen vegetables, with their perfectly square carrots, dimpled, olive-colored peas, and plump corn, and then topping the whole thing off with a layer of instant mashed potatoes? Mom cooked her shepherd’s pie in a white, round, Corningware dish. Her pie looked similar to the one in this photo from Betty Crocker.
A few months ago, my team of volunteer chefs at The Nashville Food Project was tasked with making shepherd’s pie for 150, but it was not Betty Crocker’s shepherd’s pie. Noooo. This version had fresh, just-picked onions, carrots, chard ribs, garlic, and herbs. It turned out so well, I now make it regularly for my family often using vegetables from my backyard garden.
A word about ingredients: as long as you use onions, peppers, carrots, celery and garlic as your base, you can add other vegetables to change up the flavor. I added okra this time, and it was delicious. I have also been known to throw in a lone zucchini, eggplant, beet, or a few radishes from the fridge. They all work. Sometimes, I even add a few turnips to the mashed potatoes, and that works well, too.
Yield: serves 4
Mashed Potato Topping:
1¾ pounds potatoes, scrubbed and unpeeled
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion (5 ounces), peeled
1 large carrot (4 ounces), scrubbed, unpeeled,
2 large stalks of celery, or 6-8 thin ribs of chard
6 okra pods (optional)
1 sweet red pepper, seeded
2 tablespoons minced garlic (I used garlic from a jar)
salt and pepper, to taste
1-1/3 pounds of ground meat: beef, pork, veal, lamb, or venison
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 long sprig rosemary, leaves snipped and chopped
4 sprigs thyme, leaves snipped
5 sprigs parsley, leaves snipped and chopped
Preheat oven to 350º.
One 9-inch square or round pan, or ceramic casserole dish.
To cook the potatoes for the mashed potato topping:
Scrub the potatoes, chop them into 2-inch chunks and add to a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Set a timer so you don’t forget about them while you are busy sautéing the meat and vegetables. After 10 minutes of boiling, insert a fork into a potato to test for doneness. If the potato chunk is too firm, cook for 5 more minutes. Do not over cook. You do not want the potatoes to get waterlogged. You’ll know if they are waterlogged because the potato will fall apart when you test it with the fork. If that happens, drain well and still use them, but next time, cook the potatoes for a little less time.
To prep the vegetables for the food processor:
-Onions: peel the outer skin and quarter.
-Carrots: scrub the skin and chop into 3-inch chunks.
-Sweet Red Pepper: remove the stem, core, and seeds and chop into 3-inch chunks.
-Celery or Chard ribs: I didn’t have celery, so I picked a few stalks of rainbow chard from my vegetable garden. Chard ribs are an excellent substitute for celery. To prep the ribs, chop off the leaves and cut stalks into 4-inch segments.
Okra: I’m growing a new variety of okra that is red. I have eight plants so I only get to pick about 5 small pods a day. I often store them in the fridge until I have picked enough tor a meal. One nice quality about red okra is that the longer pods are tender enough to eat, unlike green okra where a long pod is often too fibrous to cook. To prep okra: cut off the stem and chop into 3-inch segments.
To process the vegetables:
Take all the vegetables, except for the herbs, and “pulse” them together in a food processor. Do not purée. You can also chop by hand with a knife.
To sauté the vegetables and meat:
Add olive oil to a 12-inch sauté pan. Add chopped vegetables, garlic, salt, and pepper to pan. Sauté on medium heat for about 10 minutes until vegetables are translucent. Do not brown. Set aside.
In another pan, add ground meat, garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs. Sauté for 5-10 minutes until meat is cooked but not browned. Drain fat.
To make the mashed potato topping:
While the meat filling is cooking, test your potatoes. If tender, remove from heat and drain in a colander reserving about ½ cup of the potato water. Since the food processor is already dirty, I purée my mashed potatoes in it. Add hot potatoes, milk, butter, and salt to the food processor bowl. Process just until blended. If the mashed potatoes are too pasty, add the reserved potato water and pulse a little longer.
Pour vegetables and meat into a baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the filling with a spatula.
Bake for 20-30 minutes. The pie is done when the peaks on the potatoes are lightly browned. In the two pictures below, you can see the difference between the time I drained the fat and the time I didn’t. The browned edges around the pie on the right are from the fat that bubbled up during baking. Ugh. To avoid that, drain the meat before adding the potatoes.
In the future, I’m going to try making this with mashed sweet potatoes and use lamb for the ground meat. It would also be fun to try with ground turkey. You could make a cauliflower purée instead of the mashed potatoes, and that would taste great, too. Start playing around with ingredients and see what happens. Like my recipe for frittatas, you never know what you will end up with when you start deviating from a recipe, but it’s fun to improvise with different fresh vegetables. The more you cook, the better you will become at experimenting and putting your special touches on a recipe.
Make it Whole30
Eliminate butter and milk in the mashed potatoes. Substitute 2 tablespoons of olive oil for the butter. My friend Libba suggested substituting a ¼ cup of broth for the milk. The extra liquid helped to fluff up the potatoes.
Make it for company: double the recipe (Serves 8-12)
We’ve been making this recipe a lot for big family dinners. Here is my husband managing all three pans on the stove top: vegetables, meat, and potatoes.
New vegetables we’ve tried:
I’ve now learned I can pretty much add any vegetable to the mix. This time, we used leeks, a small onion, unpeeled eggplants, an assortment of cherry tomatoes, a sweet red bell pepper, okra, celery, and carrots. In other words, everything in the vegetable drawer of the fridge.
Bonus: everyone was in the kitchen helping to prep the colorful veggies. When that happens I get all verklempt.
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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.