When I decided to make shepherd's pie, it wasn't really to use something up so much as it was to make something yummy that we haven't had for a while. I did however, use up some chicken stock, and a sweet potato...I made two versions, one topped with russet potatoes, and one topped with sweet potato.
That being said, this is the type of dish that has a lot of flexibility and allows you to use up the vegetables and meat you have on hand. I used ground pork, as I had some in the freezer, but I have made it with ground beef, and have a friend who will only use ground lamb.
Start off with the vegetables. Cook them with a bit of olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, over a medium low heat until they start to soften:
1 small onion, diced
1 cup diced carrots
1 stalk celery, diced
3/4 cup zucchini, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Next add 1 pound of ground pork, season well with salt and pepper, and cook until the meat is almost completely cooked through.
Use a spoon to break the meat up as it cooks, so there are no large lumps of meat in your filling.
Add in a good dollop of tomato paste, about 2 tablespoons. Stir it in well.
Next you need to add some flour to thicken the filling.
I added between 1 - 2 tablespoons. How much you add depends on how much fat and liquid has been released by your meat. You want the flour to absorb the fat/liquid and form a thin paste-like coating around the meat and vegetables.
Allow this to cook for a minute.
Add the chicken stock, a bit at a time, allowing the flour to thicken it as you add it. I used approximately
1 1/2 cups. Continue adding stock until you have a thick, saucy filling.
You can always add more stock to thin it down if you need. Allow the filling to simmer until the vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool while you cook the potatoes.
I forgot to add in the frozen peas at this point, so I added them into the filling when it was already in the baking dishes. I used about 3/4 cup of frozen peas.
Cook 2 peeled and diced russet potatoes in salted boiling water until they are tender. Drain, and mash with salt, pepper, butter and a bit of milk; the potatoes should be fairly stiff, so do not add too much milk.
In a separate pot of salted boiling water, cook 1 large sweet potato, that has been peeled and diced. When this is tender, drain it, and mash the sweet potato with salt, pepper and butter. Again, you want this to be fairly stiff.
Divide the filling between the baking dishes, and carefully spread the mashed potato topping over the filling.
I used 2 individual ones for the sweet potato topping...
...and 1 large one for the russet potato topping
Bake the shepherd's pies in a 350F oven for about 45 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the potato topping is golden and crunchy.
- As I mentioned at the start of this post, this is a forgiving dish, which is perfect for using up bits of vegetables, or meat that you have available. I try to stick with a base of carrot and onion, and then improvise from there.
- Some vegetables that would work well included leeks, corn, red peppers, chopped cooked spinach, diced turnip, and even potatoes or sweet potatoes, diced.
- If you have fresh herbs such as thyme or parsley, add these into the filling. You can also add in a bayleaf while it's simmering.
- I used chicken stock because I had some in the fridge; beef stock, vegetable stock or even just water can be used. If you are using a stronger meat such as beef or lamb, feel free to add in a bit of leftover red wine...
- Use leftover cooked meat and chop it up finely. Mix this into the filling after it has been thickened.
- This is often made with ground lamb or beef; we prefer pork. Why not try ground chicken or turkey?
- Cooked, flaked whitefish will also make a healthy and tasty alternative. Poach the fish in water, along with a bayleaf, a lemon cut into slices, some fresh thyme and parsley and a clove pf garlic that has been crushed to release the flavour. When it is cooked, remove the fish (reserve the water) and allow it to cool, before flaking it up and adding it to the vegetables after the sauce has been thickened. Strain the seasoning from the poaching water and use this as your stock. Consider adding things such as fresh dill, lemon zest or capers to the filling.
- Once the potatoes are mashed, consider adding to them...chopped fresh herbs, grated cheese such as Parmesan; roasted garlic or caramelized onion; chopped green onions; even bacon!
- If you are looking to cut down on the calories that potatoes bring to this meal, consider using turnips, rutabaga, cauliflower or butternut squash for part of the potato topping. Simply boil, and then mash with the potatoes. This is also a great way to introduce a new or different vegetable to your family.
- The assembled shepherd's pie freezes well, so does the cooked filling.
- The warm potato is easier to spread when the filling is cold, so if you can, make the filling a day, or few hours ahead.