It would be pretty hard to write about The Shepherd’s Wife without sharing a recipe for her pie, right? Shepherd’s Pie (aka: cottage pie or pot pie) is a “leftover” dish by tradition. When a farmer’s wife had prepared that large lamb roast on Sunday, Shepherd’s Pie or one of its many variations, was sure to hit the table on Monday night. We have so much to learn from our past, don’t we? Seems many of our answers to living a greener life are like a pair of ruby slippers—a way home right before our eyes all the time.

And basic Shepherd’s Pie is a pretty easy dish—leftover meat and gravy get thrown into a sauté of aromatic vegetables, placed in a casserole dish and topped with last night’s mashed potatoes (unless there are none, in which case you’d need to whip those up). Then it’s into the oven and “ta da!” You have a one-dish supper.

But you know me…I just had to tweak this ever so slightly. Be brave….

When I was out visiting Tracy on her sheep farm, we, of course, discussed recipes. Shepherd’s Pie is a favorite in the Riddle household, but even Tracy has put her own mark on this classic dish. And you know what? Her adjustment sounded brilliant, so it’s part of my recipe too! “I have never been a big fan of peas,” Tracy admitted, “especially canned or frozen. If it’s not right out of the garden, it’s not a good pea.” However, most recipes for a traditional Shepherd’s Pie suggest peas in the stew-like mixture that forms the bottom of the pie. Tracy decided to be brave (LOVE IT!) and substitute mushrooms instead. How brilliant is that?

So it was off to Leo’s house—my local mushroom grower–to pick up a big bag of gray oysters. However, if you decided to make this dish and don’t live near Leo, I think chopped portabella or shitake or a mixture of both would be divine.

Like Tracy, I was thinking already about how I might slightly elevate this humble…pie…OK, that was pretty lame. What was bothering me was the mound of potatoes—not that I don’t love good homemade mashed potatoes—but it sounded a bit…boring. So I literally lift the typical diced carrots out of the meat mixture and created a spiced carrot puree to give those potatoes a flavorful, colorful friend. If this is more than you want to tackle, feel free to keep the carrots in their original spot—I’ll be sure to tell you how.

And one other thing…I purchased a pound of raw ground lamb from Tracy for my Shepherd’s Pie, since I did not have leftover roast. So, I wrote out the recipe using the raw lamb burger, but I will be sure to mention how to adjust for leftovers in the recipe, if you are really being greener than green.

And before you get your wool up…

The lambs that go to market from Tracy’s farm are not tiny enough to fit in your Easter basket (Leave the anthropomorphism to Disney.). Market lambs are nearly fully grown, and live a happy life for about a year to a year and a half out in the pasture with their moms…more or less the same as humanely raised cows, hogs and chickens. And while meat is better left as a side dish rather than the center of the meal if we are serious about ending climate change (see the end of my post on The Compost Cracker for Drawdown Challenge links), it can still be a perfectly green choice, especially in a dish such as this and especially if we buy meat raised by local growers like Tracy, on small farms, who practice humane, regenerative and/or organic agriculture. OK, lecture over—time to cook.

Almost-Classic Shepherd’s Pie

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Serving Size: about one and a half cups meat and topping

Almost-Classic Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

    For the Mashed Potatoes
  • One and one-half pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, evenly quartered and submerged in a salted ice bath until ready to use (about one teaspoon sea salt)
  • Clean, cold water, enough to submerge the potatoes for cooking
  • One tablespoon unsalted butter
  • One-quarter cup heavy whipping cream
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • For the Spiced Carrot Puree
  • Three large carrots, scrubbed well and trimmed but not peeled, cut into small chunks
  • Clean, cold water, enough to submerge the carrot chunks, season with a dash of salt
  • One tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Two tablespoons heavy cream
  • Zest from one large lemon
  • One-quarter teaspoon each, freshly grated nutmeg, ground ginger and fine sea salt
  • A big pinch Herbs de Provence (or a pinch of dried herbs of your choice such as thyme and tarragon)
  • For the Lamb Mixture
  • One-quarter cup olive oil
  • One tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Three-quarters cup diced celery (The heart and leaves work really well here.)
  • One cup diced yellow onion
  • One cup clean, diced mushrooms
  • Four cloves garlic, chopped (less fine than minced so the garlic does not brown too quickly)
  • Dash of dry sherry or wine (white or red, your preference)
  • One pound ground lamb (or about two cups chopped cooked roast with or without a bit of gravy)
  • One cup beef stock, divided three-quarters cup and one-quarter cup (I used my frozen bone broth, but any good commercial stock will do.)
  • One bay leaf
  • One teaspoon each minced fresh sage and rosemary (or a half-teaspoon each dried)
  • Two tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Dash dark balsamic vinegar

Instructions

    To Make the Potatoes
  1. Cover the peeled and chunked potatoes with the cold, slightly salted water and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
  2. Reserve one-quarter cup of the cooking water; then, drain the potatoes.
  3. Mash the potatoes and reserved water with a hand masher until fairly smooth. We like old-fashioned mashed potatoes that are sort of chunky, but if you prefer super-smooth spuds, feel free to process them as you wish.
  4. Once the potatoes are mashed to your liking, add the butter, cream and seasonings to taste and whip well with a big wooden spoon, or whatever works for you. Set your mashed potatoes aside. You can refrigerate them up to a day in advance, if that helps you. And note, leftover mashed potatoes are perfectly fine—there’s no real need to make this exactly as I have done.
  5. To Make the Spiced Carrot Puree
  6. Cover the carrots with cold, slightly salted water and cook until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and cool slightly.
  7. Place the carrot chunks in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cream, butter, lemon zest, spices and herbs. Process until smooth. Set aside. Can be made and refrigerated up to a day in advance.
  8. Note that making the carrot puree is an optional idea. If you prefer to have your carrots in the lamb mixture, just skip this step.
  9. To Make the Lamb Mixture
  10. Heat olive oil in a large chef’s skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, onions, garlic, mushrooms (diced carrots if you are including them in the meat mixture instead of as a puree) and salt to taste. Sauté until the vegetables are tender and shiny. Add the dash of sherry and cook until the alcohol burns off, about five minutes.
  11. Add the crumbled raw ground lamb and continue to cook just until the lamb has browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Tilt your skillet and spoon out any excess fat—there shouldn’t be too much with lamb, and much of the flavor is in those juices, so leave some behind. If you are using leftover lamb or beef roast, you will only need to heat this through for about 10 minutes, in order to give all the ingredients a chance to say hello; no fat removal is necessary.
  12. Add the three-quarters cup of beef stock, the bay leaf and the fresh or dried herbs. Cook about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining beef stock, the balsamic vinegar and the flour to create a slurry. Slowly add the flour and broth slurry to the skillet, whisking constantly. Cook for five minutes to thicken; then, remove from heat.
  13. To Bake the Shepherd’s Pie
  14. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8 X 8 casserole dish.
  15. Remove the bay leaf from the lamb mixture. Press the lamb mixture evenly into the bottom of the casserole.
  16. Top with half the mashed potatoes, spreading evenly to cover all the meat mixture. (Or, use all the potatoes if you are not using the carrot puree.)
  17. Top the potato layer with all the carrot puree, carefully spreading an even layer across the potatoes.
  18. Finish with the remaining potatoes, spreading evenly across the carrot layer. Using a fork, rake through the top layer of potatoes to let the carrot puree seep through, creating a kind of ribbon effect.
  19. Dot with extra butter, if you wish, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the casserole is heated through.
  20. Give it a minute to calm down and serve piping hot.

Notes

Note that the prep time refers to the total time it takes to prepare all the vegetables and meat. The cook time refers to the total cooking time of each step added together.

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A bit of caution

My casserole was very full and I did experience an oven spill. So be mindful of that, either using a slightly bigger casserole dish to give it extra room or be sure to place a spill guard on the oven rack below your casserole.

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