Shepard’s pie with fresh Mediterranean flavor

My husband and I ate the pie so fast, I forgot to take a photo! But since we loved it so much, I’m surely going to repeat it.  Then I’ll take a picture, and in particular, get a good shot of the meaty bottom,  which is where most of the good flavor reside. (I finally did photo the dish again, but this time I cooked it with peas.) The outside is just a hump of white mashed potatoes, and who wants to see just that? But of course eating it is another matter, since homemade mashed potatoes is luscious and loved by many especially as the meat sauce below bubbles up through the vegetables into the potatoes!

The sauce here  was savory red, slightly thick and oh so excellent!  I used string beans as the vegetable in the middle.  I ate shepart’s pie with peas as a child for decades, so I wanted an alternative this  time. String beans taste great, especially when not overcooked.

 

INGREDIENTS                                                                                         Serves 6-8

Filling 

1 1/2 pounds meat, divided –    1 lb. ground beef, 85%, plus a half pound of ground pork, chicken, or turkey

1 cup diced tomatoes, well-mashed

3 garlic cloves, mashed

1  1/2 tsp salt

3/4 tsp pepper

1 tsp lemon zest

1/2 cup chicken stock

3/4 tbsp crushed cumin seeds

1 Tbsp  Italian seasoning

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 onion, coarsely chopped

2-3 tbsp vegetable or olive oil, divided

 

Potato

2 -3 lbs Yukon potatoes, cut in 1 1/2 inch chunks, skin left on

1/2 cup milk or half and half, adjusted, room temperature

4 Tbsp butter

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

 

Vegetable 

Use whatever vegetable you like, peas are traditional, and simple to add, frozen or canned, added on top of the meat filling.  Spinach too is easy, and can, once parboiled for two minutes, be stirred into the meat filling. Other vegetables, like string beans, (my favorite), cut-up cauliflower or broccoli or most other vegetables work well, but need to be parboiled  7-10 minutes, but first cut them up in large bitesized pieces. Butternut squash, peeled, cut in one-inch squares, can be stirred in with the meat mixture, cooked with it for about fifteen minutes, or until tender.  Aside from the spinach, which is extremely thin once cooked and stirred in with the meat, for the other vegetables, (not the squash), average about 1-2 cups, before adding them atop the meat mixture.

 

PROCESS

1   In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until it simmers.  Add both meats, cooking 3-5 minutes on medium heat while you  break up the hunks of meat.  Cook until all pink color is nearly gone, adding more oil, if needed.Add the onion, and more oil if need be, and cook and stir for 5-7 minutes as the onion softens.  Add the garlic, lower the heat and cook another  1-2 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2   Parboil other vegetables, if using, and keep warm for a few minutes. Cook the potatoes in a full pot of cold salted water. Once cooked, about 15 minutes, drain them and let the potatoes dry out slightly, 5-10 minutes before adding the butter and milk. Add half the milk, then add the other half, if needed. Mash with an old-fashioned hand masher or a ricer, if convenient. Cover to keep warm.

3   While the potatoes remain warm, add the chicken broth to the meat mixture, raise the heat, and bring to a gentle simmer and add the Italian spices, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, cumin seed, lemon zest and half the salt and pepper.  Add the remaining salt and pepper, more if desired. Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes, as ingredients meld. If you want a  soupier mixture, add a few extra tablespoons of chicken broth.

4   In a 2- 2 1/2 quart-size casserole, spread the meat mixture evenly around.  Add any parboiled vegetables, in an even layer, topped with the mashed potatoes, smoothed nicely on top. Add a few dabs of butter on top of the mashed potatoes. Place on a cookie sheet to catch any drips from the casserole. Cook for 40-45 minutes, until heated through. Cool just 5 minutes.

Tips and Tweaks:

  • If desired, as you make the mashed potatoes, add only half the milk,  mash the potatoes, then add only 2 tablespoons of butter, but add  3 oz of grated cheddar cheese, and 3 oz of cream cheese, both at room temperature. Stir together well.  Reheat the potatoes slightly at very low heat.
  • At Step 3, if desired, add additonal spices, such as 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper or 1/2 teaspoon harissa paste. Increase the Italian seasoning to 2 tablespoons, plus add 1 teaspoon dried oregano. For more heat and spice,  you can saute with the onion at step 1, a half poblano or anaheim pepper.
  • At step 1, along with t he onion, to keep a mild flavor, saute 1 carrot and 1 stalk of celery.  Cut them in one inch pieces. Add a few more minutes to the sauteing time. Mushrooms too can be added, about 4-6 ounces, sliced.  Add them after the onion is cooked halfway at step 1.
  • If you’re lacking an onion, use  2 medium size shallots, ten scallions, or one large leek, sliced and washed well. If possible, use a leek with 5-7 inches of  white part and only a bit of the green.
  • At step 4, once the casserole has cooked for 30 minutes, and if your potatoes are plain, at this point add 3/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese and bake another 15-20 minutes.
  • When you add the onion to brown, add half a cut-up red pepper, letting it brown along with the meat mixture.
  • Instead of using diced tomaotes, add 3/4 cup of tomato sauce at step 3.
  • Finally at step 1, add another quarter pound of ground beef or other meat to make the dish more substantive. If making this larger amount, use a 3 quart casserole dish.

 

 

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