Shepherd’s Pie is as traditional as it gets if you are a whitey like me. A one pot hot dish, vegetable and meat stew topped with mashed potatoes, it is what I crave when the weather turns chilly and I’m looking for something hot and hearty. And like a lot of traditional dishes, it can be twisted up and turned on its head and become a vehicle for all your own favorite additions. It’s kind of like a pizza. Some people will never want anything but pepperoni and cheese, but for the creative, there’s a whole world of barbecue sauce and cilantro out there. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie doesn’t include tomatoes or green beans, but that’s not going to stop me from trying it.
2 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 1/2 C carrots, diced
1 1/2 C onions, diced
1 1/2 lbs green beans
2 pints canned whole tomatoes
1 large can tomato paste
Salt and Pepper
Spices to taste
About 6 C chopped potatoes
About 2 T mayonnaise
Brown your ground beef. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beef from the pan, saving all that good grease to cook the vegetables. Add the carrots and onions and cook until soft. If your green beans are fresh, boil them until al dente. If frozen, thaw them in the microwave.
In the meantime, make your mashed potatoes. Boil the potatoes in water that’s been heavily salted. You can make your mashed potatoes anyway you prefer, but my method is to toss them in a mixer with some mayonnaise for taste and as much evaporated milk as necessary to make it really creamy without turning into a smoothy. Be careful not to overmix or you’ll end up making paste.
When the carrots and onions are cooked, add the green beans and toss them in the fat. Add the meat back into the pot. Add the tomatoes including all the liquid. Give the whole tomatoes a squish as you add them to tear them into bite sized pieces. Add the tomato paste and stir well. If your tomatoes are super juicy, don’t add any more liquid. We’re aiming for a stew, not a soup. But if you need a little more liquid you could add a little water or beef broth, or even some red wine to really bring out the tomato flavors. Add lots of salt and pepper and then raid your spice cabinet for some other additions. Oregano is an obvious and classic choice, thyme is good in everything, cumin would add a lovely little punch. Season to taste and let it simmer for about 30 minutes or until the liquid reduces down and all the flavors have a chance to meld together.
Pour your stew into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Then slap the potatoes on top like you’re frosting a cake. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the potatoes get a pretty crust to them. Then eat.
This recipe makes enough for a crowd. Which makes it excellent pot luck or freezer meal fare, or you could just cut the recipe in half if you’re only feeding a few people. I can just never seem to help myself from going big.