Oh, shepherds pie. I've been missing out for too many years.
You see, it's kind of funny that I'm here posting this recipe. We have some history, shepherds pie and I. Until a few years ago I had only eaten the dish once before (that I can remember). I swore it off around age six when I developed a stomach bug a few hours after having it for dinner. Despite my mom telling me it was just a coincidence, I decided I was allergic to shepherds pie and spent the next fifteen or so years ignoring it.
When my boyfriend and I moved to Portland, I was reintroduced to shepherds pie at The Front Room. And, lo and behold, it was delicious. (I mean, how can you go wrong with lamb and mashed potatoes? What was my six-year-old self thinking?!) Now I make my own version on winter nights that are especially cold and dark, which unfortunately are all too frequent these days.
WINTER SHEPHERDS PIE
Any Brit would probably cringe at this recipe, because I don't think it's very traditional. I used lamb sausage for my version because I can get it locally and the flavor is amazing, but any well-seasoned ground meat would work. I also happened to have some frozen peas on hand that I wanted to use up, but they could certainly be left out.
5 to 6 medium potatoes, cut into quarters
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large links lamb sausage, equaling about 1 and 1/2 cups ground meat total
1 large shallot, chopped coarsely
1 small sweet potato, cut into small cubes about 1/4 inch thick
5 to 6 medium carrots, sliced into rounds 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick
3/4 cups green peas
1 large bunch kale, stems removed, roughly torn into small pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
Cream, milk, or half and half, to taste (for the potatoes)
1/4 to 1/2 cup cheddar or parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover by about one inch with water. Place over medium-high heat and boil until a knife slides easily through the largest pieces.
While the potatoes are boiling, cook your sausage. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or skilled. Remove the sausages from their casings and break into pieces as you add them to the skillet. As the sausages cook, break them up into smaller pieces with a fork or wooden spoon. When the meat is cooked, remove it from the skillet with a slotted spoon, place it in a bowl, and set it aside. Leave the remaining sausage grease in the pan, as it will add flavor to the veggies as they cook.
Place the chopped shallots in the skillet with the lamb grease and sauté over medium heat until soft, about five minutes. Add the sweet potato and carrots and cook, covered, until soft, about 5 or 10 minutes. When the largest pieces of potato and carrot are soft, add the peas and the kale. Cook another 5 or so minutes, until the kale is wilted and can easily be mixed into the rest of the vegetables. Stir in the worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
When the potatoes are soft, drain and place back in the pot. Add butter and begin to mash the potatoes with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Add cream, milk, or half and half and continue mashing until the potatoes reach your desired consistency. (I find this varies from person to person, so I'll leave it up to you—I think I added about 1/4 cup of half and half.) Add salt and pepper to taste, and set the potatoes aside.
Now it's time to assemble the pie. First, place the sausage pieces in the bottom of a large casserole or cast-iron skillet. Pour the veggie mixture over the sausage. Finally, place large dollops (that's a technical culinary term, right?) of the potatoes throughout the casserole, spreading them together so they fully cover the veggie mixture. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the potatoes.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and is beginning to brown. It doesn't hurt to turn the broiler on at the end for a minute or so to crisp up the cheese.