There are certain things that I’ll order when I see them on a restaurant menu. If I’m at an Indian restaurant it’s dahl. A French restaurant? Onion soup or beef bourguignon. An English/Irish pub? It’s a savory pie usually steak and ale or this one: Shepherd’s Pie.*
Why do this? For a few reasons. First, the obvious: they’re delish. Second, these are classic dishes of their respective cuisines. If an Indian restaurant can’t make a good dahl, I have serious misgivings about the rest of their food.
Finally, I love to see how a restaurant puts their mark on these classics. Don’t get me wrong, I love a classic dish as is. But it great when a restaurant gives you a food you love in a way you’ve never had it. Like this (now closed) NYC restaurant that served the best french onion soup dumplings.
A twist on a classic can show a restaurant’s personality. It also pushes you to think about a dish in a new way. If you can put French onion soup in a dumpling, what else can you do with it? The sky’s the limit!
The spin I put on this Shepherd’s pie? Cheese. Cheese and potatoes go together like peas and carrots. Not as world shattering as a soup dumpling, I grant you. But the sharpness of the cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and parmesan) is a lovely balance to the creamy buttery potato topping. Now the potatoes bring something to the pie flavor-wise, instead of simply providing a contrast to the filling’s texture.
Plus, topping my Cheesy Shepherd’s pie with cheddar and parmesan gives it a beautiful brown crust. In terms of appearance, a definite improvement. And taste? Another improvement. It gives the pie a crispy, salty top crust that contrasts the saucy filling beautifully. Kind of like the best part of a twice baked potato.
For those traditionalists, not to worry, my Cheesy Shepherd’s Pie still includes everything you love. Beneath the silky mashed potato is a perfect comfort food filling – meat and veggies in an addictive savory sauce.
In “close enough” style, this Cheesy Shepherd’s Pie is easy to make for a weeknight dinner. Or if you’re a planner (So not me but kudos if you are. I’m envious and wonder what you do with your time if you’re not stressing about the dozens of things you’ve forgotten to do?) this is a dish you can make with a free hour in the morning and then simply heat for dinner.
You could even make it days ahead, cover it with saran wrap and freeze to eat whenever. That’s why it’s one of my go-to dishes to bring to friends who’ve had a baby. “Congrats! You’re totally screwed, exhausted and likely in a good amount of pain! Please take this Cheesy Shepherd’s Pie with my sympathies. Heat at 425 degrees and remember ice packs are your friend. “
I made my Cheesy Shepherd’s Pie the other night for family and one of my twins pronounced it her “second-favorite dinner.” She refused to tell us her first favorite, which was a real cliffhanger. I’ll let you know if the answer ever surfaces. But I have every confidence that your family (even the kids!) will like this dish as much as she did. Although now I’m pondering whether there’s a way I could get Cheesy Shepherd’s Pie into a dumpling . . .
One final note, and if you take nothing from my blog take this: Please, please, please for the love of God do not use a hand mixer to make mashed potatoes. You’ll end up with a gummy, lumpy mess and that hurts my Irish heart. I can’t see you or your potatoes suffer like that.
The answer? The thing that will always give you smooth, lump free mashed potatoes in a snap? Say it with me: A potato ricer. Here’s the one I’ve used for the last five years and it still works great: Kuhn Rikon Potato Ricer. I used one in a cooking class for the first time years ago and all I could think was “Where have you been all my life?” Few items, kitchen or otherwise, have made me as happy as my potato ricer. I’d like to say that’s this is an overstatement but sadly it’s not. I really am that big of a cooking nerd.
A decent ricer is not expensive. If you don’t own one, buy one as soon as you finish reading this post. Your potatoes and your dinner guests will appreciate. Thank for coming to my TED talk on preventing potato abuse.
*Speaking of the Irish/English cuisine, how do these people not have a shorter life expectancy? It’s like they’ve never heard of cholesterol or blood pressure. Their best-loved foods are a heart attack waiting to happen chased with a nice pint. Not that I’m complaining. I love every morsel. I just wanna know how they get away with it. And don’t even get me started on the French . . .
In the mood for a meaty, flavorful comfort food? My easy cheesy Shepherd’s Pie is it. This pie has everything you’d expect — fluffy mashed potatoes atop beef and veggies in a plate-lickingly good sauce. Plus it has a delicious twist — parmesan and cheddar cheese in the mashed potatoes and giving the pie an amazing cheesy crust.
1 lb. ground beef or lamb
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup full-bodied red wine
2 1/2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp. flour
1 cup frozen peas
3 cups cheesy mashed potatoes (see recipe below)
3/4 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
For cheesy mashed potatoes:*
6 medium size potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3/4 stick unsalted butter (6 tbsp.)
1 1/4 cup whole milk, warmed
1/4 parmesan, grated
1/2 extra sharp cheddar, grated
Salt and Pepper to taste
*Depending how much mashed potato topping you like on your Sheperd’s Pie, you may have leftovers. Always good to store in fridge and use as a tasty side dish another night.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large skillet, cook meat over medium-high heat until browned (approx. 5 minutes).
Add carrots and onions and cook, stir occasionally, until onions are translucent and carrots are tender crisp (approx. 5 minutes). Salt and pepper to taste.
Add garlic and cook until fragrant (approx. 1 min).
Add tomato paste, stir and cook until paste begin to darken in color (approx. 1-2 minutes).
Add wine and deglaze pan, scraping the bottom of the skillet to incorporate any meat/veggies stuck to it.
Once wine begins to simmer add in beef stock, Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste.
When sauce begins to bubble reduce heat to low and allow to simmer until sauce begins to thicken (approx. 10 minutes).
Add peas and sprinkle with flour. Stir until flour is well incorporated and no lumps remain. Allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes then remove thyme springs. If too much liquid remains, continue to simmer. Otherwise transfer mixture to a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
Top with mashed potatoes by placing scoops of mashed potato over filling and smoothing with a knife or offset spatula.
Create design on top, if desired.*
Top with cheese and bake until cheese topping has begun to brown and filling is bubbling around the edges of pan.
For mashed potatoes:
Place potato chunks in large pot of cold salted water filled so that potatoes are completely covered.
Heat pot over high heat until water begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and continue to boil until potato chunks are fork tender (they can be pierced with a fork with little resistance) being careful to not overcook.
Drain potatoes and allow to cool a bit (approx. 5 minutes).
Rice potatoes into large bowl or back into pot.
Add warmed milk, butter and cheeses to potatoes. Mix with large spoon until fully incorporated. Salt and Pepper to taste.
* I generally use a fork to create lines in the topping because it make the top crustier as it bakes, but do whatever you like or leave the top smooth.