There are surprisingly many of those dishes I am somewhat terrified of trying to make. Shepherd's pie used to be one of them. But then I really wanted to eat shepherd's pie. After learning the basics of it, I made a version that was easy and simple enough for me. Now, it is one of my favorites to cook and to eat.
Shepherd's pie has long been a favorite of my father. As long as I can remember, whenever we have been travelling in a bigger city somewhere abroad, my father has always wanted to eat at an Irish pub if there was a chance. Can you guess the reason? Yes, shepherd's pie. It's always when we are already too hungry, when we rather argue and whine than actually try to look for a restaurant. Dad checks if there is an Irish pub near-by. If there is, we'll be there. Eating shepherd's pie or fish and chips. Maybe broccoli and cheddar soup with Irish brown bread. There would be no more arguing or whining.
There's something to those two layers; one of meat, the other of potatoes. The tomatoes give a fragrant undertone to the meat mixture, and the meat is seasoned with thyme and a little basil to bring out the best of both the meat and tomatoes. The mashed potato layer is creamy and slightly buttery, and it is the perfect accompaniment to the meat. Making the meat mixture first and letting it simmer while the potatoes are cooking, allows the meat to take on the flavors. Honestly, if any dish ever was comforting, it's this.
While making shepherd's pie does take some time, I find it more than worth all the time spent on making it. It is also relatively easy to make, and the finished result is oh, so cozy and tasty and comforting. There's not much better, really. And if you happen to have a relative who likes his meat and potatoes, well, all the more better. My father had to walk out of the kitchen after three helpings because the temptation to eat more was almost too much.
* For an easy, everyday meal I use ground beef. This version was, though, made with 1/2 pound each of beef, pork, and moose. I love it either way. Lamb could also be used (it is shepherd's pie, after all.)
2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion
3 to 4 garlic cloves
4 to 5 medium carrots
700g (1 1/2 lbs) ground meat (beef) *
2/3 cup beef or vegetable stock
1 (400g / 14 oz.) can peeled tomatoes
150g (5 oz.) frozen peas
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dried basil
salt to taste
1.4 kg (3 lbs) all-purpose potatoes like Yukon Gold
4 tbsp butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk (not fat-free)
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 175C.
Peel the potatoes and set them in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside. Peel and dice the onion and carrots. Peel and mince the garlic cloves. In a large skillet, sauté the onion, garlic, and carrots in oil on medium-high for a few minutes. Add the meat and sauté on high heat until the meat is browned and cooked through. Season with spices, then add the stock, tomatoes, and peas. Cover and let simmer until the mashed potatoes are ready. Season to taste with salt.
Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. In the meanwhile, cut the potatoes into quarters or sixths to reduce the cooking time. When the water boils, add the potatoes and cook until tender and done, about 15 minutes. Drain the water from potatoes. Heat up the milk and add all of the butter and about a half of the milk and mash the potatoes with potato masher, adding milk a tablespoon or two at a time until desired consistency. Season to taste with salt.
Pour the meat mixture into a large baking dish (about 13 x 9 inch). Spoon the mashed potatoes on top, spreading until the mashed potatoes cover all of the meat mixture. Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until bubbly and nicely browned on top. Let the casserole sit for about 15 minutes before serving.