As the season starts to change and it gets colder outside, I notice a definite yearning for comfort foods...stews, pastas, casserole type meals. Shepherd's pie is one of those meals.
Shepherd's pie is traditionally made with lamb, but I often make it with pork. This time, however, I used the ground beef that was in the freezer, along with the frozen beef stock.
Since I had about half a cup of grated Parmesan and a bunch of green onions in the fridge, I added those to the potato after I had mashed it.
Instead of just cooking and mashing the potatoes, I chose to bake them, scoop out the flesh and stuff the skins with the meat filling before topping it all with the mashed potato. A lot of work, you may say, but it really wasn't any more work than it would be otherwise, and provided us with a fun version of a traditional dish.
To start off, wash 1 large baking potato per person; I used russet potatoes. Prick the skins to stop them from exploding during cooking, and place the potatoes into a 400F oven to bake. They should take at least an hour, depending on the size of the potato. The potatoes are ready when they are soft when gently squished.
While they are baking you can make the meat filling.
In a heavy bottomed pan, using olive oil, cook until the onions are opaque:
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2" length of zucchini, diced (about the same amount as the carrot)
Salt and pepper
When the onion is opaque, add:
1 pound of lean ground beef
Cook, breaking up any lumps of meat, until the beef is almost completely cooked through.
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
Cook until the beef is no longer pink.
1/4 cup flour
Cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups beef stock
Bring to a boil, stirring. Turn the heat down and simmer until the carrots are tender.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
When the potatoes are cooked, remove them from the oven and as soon as you are able to handle them (I use a tea towel to hold them), cut them in half, lengthwise.
Scoop the flesh out of the potato skins, and place the skins into an ovenproof dish.
Place the flesh into a bowl for mashing.
Mash the potato with butter, salt and pepper and a bit of milk or cream...as you normally would, but with a bit less liquid. I used:
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons millk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
3 chopped green onions
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Fill the potato skins with the cooked and cooled meat filling.
Divide the mashed potato between the filled potato skins, gently spreading to cover the meat.
Sprinkle each potato with some more grated Parmesan.
Bake the stuffed potatoes in a 350F oven until the filling is hot in the centre and the mashed potato topping is crisp and golden.
I served two potato halves per person, along with some steamed green beans. The crispy on the outside, soft on the inside mashed potato was so tasty, and the meat filling provided a beautiful gravy. If you are so inclined, the potato skin can be eaten at the end...less dishes!
- Feel free to cook your potatoes in a microwave if you are so inclined. I prefer to use the oven, but that's a personal choice.
- The potatoes can be baked, scooped and stuffed a day ahead of re-baking. Keep them in the fridge, well wrapped.
- Potato mashes best when it is hot; it tends to become gluey when it is mashed cold. That is why I like to scoop the cooked flesh from the skins as soon as I can hold the potatoes, and I usually end up using a towel to hold them.
- When making shepherd's pie you want the mashed potato to be a bit thicker in consistency that your usual mashed potatoes, so start off with butter only, and then add small amounts of liquid as needed to help mash to a fluffy consistency.
- I used milk, but whipping cream, sour cream, plain Greek yoghurt or buttermilk can be used.
- Sweet potatoes can be used for this dish.
- The Parmesan can be omitted or replaced with any other cheese. Instead of green onions add chives or chopped parsley.
- The meat filling made enough for three large russet potatoes; I only baked the two I had, so the remaining filling will be frozen for another time.
- If you have no ground beef, use ground pork, lamb, chicken or turkey.
- This recipe can also be turned into a fish pie, by using cooked (leftover would be perfect) fish. Mix this into a thick Basic White Sauce (Bechamel), along with vegetables such as green peas, carrots, onions or whatever you have on hand.