I grew up on Shepherd's Pie. I'm sure the reason my mother made this dish so often was because she had five kids. Not any five kids, but one girl (me) and four hyperactive animals. It would take a book or a Lifetime movie of the week to describe the challenges of being the only girl in a house full of boys and as you can imagine, cooking something economical and tasty would have been a priority for her. My mother's version of Shepherd's Pie is quite simple. She would saute onions and peppers, then add ground beef, a layer of creamed corn, then mashed potatoes and finally topping off the casserole with triangle slices of American Cheese....lots of American Cheese. It was gooey, comforting and as a kid, I loved it. My recipe is not based on my mothers version. I am sure she never had the time to tweak the recipe and I sought to add more depth of flavor, particularly since living in Boston as given me the opportunity to taste some really good interpretations of this dish.
I started off by using a Mirepoix (onions, celery and carrots). I became familiar with this french flavor booster from reading Michael Ruhlman's books on attending the Culinary Institute of America. Mirepoix is the base to stocks and sauces and immediately thought this would be perfect as a starter to my Shepherd's pie. Glad I didn't claim this idea too soon because I wouldn't want to create a food blog faux pas, a similar recipe was found in The Boston Globe, so I am not the first or even close....as usual. I also wanted to note that I used chicken stock as opposed to beef stock. It's a personal preference. I just don't love anything overly beefy flavored. I generally use chicken stock in most recipes, but feel free to use beef broth. This dish is packed with flavor and bits of vegetables, it's hearty and comforting and although I didn't plan it this way, there is no need to add flour. Once you cook the chicken stock down and add the tomato paste, the ground beef is thick enough. This would make a great Gluten Free dish, as long as you use gluten free Worcester sauce. (Lea&Perrins)
Feel free to improvise on this dish and use whatever vegetables you have on hand. The dish is made to be easy and versatile.
I didn't tell my mother I came up with my own recipe. She insists her Shepherd"s Pie is the best and why should she think any differently?
2.5 lbs of ground beef
2 tbs olive oil
2 celery stalks (diced small)
2 carrots (diced small)
1 large onion (diced small)
2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1 cup chicken stock
1 6 oz of tomato paste
1/4 cup Worcester Sauce
1 10oz of canned or frozen baby peas
1 cup canned or frozen corn
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
2.5 lbs of potatoes
4oz cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 stick butter (room temperature)
1/4 cup milk
Grated cheese of your choice (grated American, Cheddar or Parmesan)
Heat oil in an extra large frying pan on medium heat. Add celery, carrots and onion, sauteing until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add ground meat and brown. Pour off any accumulated fat in pan. Return to heat and add 1 cup of chicken broth and let reduce until most of the liquid is evaporated, add tomato paste and Worcester sauce and stir until completely incorporated. Finally add the corn and peas and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread meat mixture into 9x13 inch casserole dish, patting down to even the top.
Cut potatoes in equal cubes with skin on. Boil potatoes in quart pan of water until fork tender, then drain. Return potatoes to pan and using a hand mixer, beat potatoes first to break them up. (I do this to avoid that "gummy" texture whipped potatoes can get when over beaten) Add cream cheese, butter and milk and beat until creamy. Use salt and pepper to taste. Spread evenly over ground beef. Add grated American, Cheddar or Parmesan cheese. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until top starts to brown.