Most of you will be aware that I lived in the United Kingdom for some time. Eleven years, to be exact, give or take a few months. In that time I developed a fondness for many of the English delicacies. I’m talking a proper mug of tea, Marmite on toast, bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie.
Ooh, shepherd’s pie! What a delightful dish to have when it’s cold and rainy outside. Technically, a shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb (or “mince” lamb in the vernacular), and cottage pie with ground beef, but shepherd’s pie is the term usually used for the meaty, mashed potato-topped—well, casserole, I guess we’d call it over here.
Even though it’s the height of summer in California, not the usual season for such a hearty meal, I made this one for our dear friend Paddy. She lives up at Top of the World, and The Husband used to deliver Meals on Wheels to her. She’s a British expat, and on her own now that her husband died about five years ago and her dear Boston Terrier died earlier this year. I decided this lovely lady needed a bit of good food and cheering up.
Seeing as how Paddy is in her 80s, I threw caution to the wind and a lot of butter in the pan. I certainly won’t be calorie counting by that age! Even though I can’t eat beef, this would be good with either ground turkey or fake ground beef (like Yves brand, easily found at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods)—I’ve made it with the fake several times and everybody loves it. Make it vegan by using the Yves “meat”, using Earth Balance margarine and leaving off the cheese.
1 lb. ground beef (or alternative)
I can chopped tomatoes (I like the fire-roasted ones)
4 cloves garlic
1 onion, chopped fine
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs Marmite (if you don’t have this, my secret ingredient, you can use beef or veggie stock, but it won’t be the same)
2 tbs. dried oregano
Salt and black pepper to taste
Butter (or olive oil, if you want to keep the calories down)
2 lbs. potatoes, like russet
Fresh nutmeg, finely ground
Salt and black pepper to taste
Grated sharp cheddar, preferably a nice English one (DO NOT use that horrible orange kind! or Jack!)
Peel the potatoes, chop in to about 1/2″ to 1″-square pieces and cover with water in a large pot. Put on the stove to boil until soft, about 30 minutes
Sweat the onions in the butter or oil, and after a few minutes, add the garlic. If you want to spice this up, now’s a good time to throw in some chopped chili, either fresh or dried. Once the onion and garlic are soft, add the ground beef and stir, breaking it up and browning it.
Once the meat is nice and brown, add the chopped tomatoes and the Marmite (or stock). I use Marmite in any ground beef/tomato sauce, as it just gives it a deeper flavor, and even those who can’t abide the taste of Marmite (like The Husband) don’t notice it. Add the tomato paste and oregano and let simmer until the liquid in the pan gets a little thicker. You can add a little flour if this isn’t happening quickly enough for you. When it looks about done (15-25 minutes), add the salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool.
Hopefully by this time, your potatoes are nice and soft, and by that I mean that when you stick a knife in one of them, it crumbles to pieces. I usually get too impatient and then I get lumpy mash! Drain the potatoes and return to the pan. Add at least a half a stick of butter, if not more. Mash together; add milk to get a creamy consistency. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper.
To assemble: get a nice casserole pan and pour in the mince-beef concoction. (For giving as a gift, use a few aluminum loaf pans or brownie pan that you can get at the grocery store.) Take a big spoon and throw as much potato over the top of the mince as possible; spread evenly over the top. Take the spoon and make sure that the potato topping has lots of ridges and bumps on it—that will make nice crispy edges. Cover with the grated cheese; use as much as you like. Pop it in a 375-degree (F) oven for 30-40 minutes til the cheese is melted and the potato topping is crispy at the edges.
Serve with hot peas slathered in butter. The Husband likes adding more butter to the top of the shepherd’s pie, but that’s just a bit naughty! But do help yourself… 😉