Easy, hearty shepherd’s pie takes the edge off winter

shepherd's pie

A scoop of piping-hot shepherd’s pie will warm you on a cold evening. Photo by Laura Groch

Wet, wintry weather makes me want hearty, hot meals. Soups and stews come to mind, warming the kitchen as they cook and warming the body as we eat.

The humble but sturdy shepherd’s pie also fills the bill. This is an easy-to-make, forgiving dish that can be as economical or as extravagant as your budget allows.

It’s also extremely flexible: You can use whatever’s at hand without having to rigidly adhere to a list of ingredients, which freaks out some cooks.

(And p.s., looking ahead to Super Bowl feeds, this would be just as bowl-worthy as chili for your crew.)

My pie — baked in a casserole dish, not necessarily a pie plate (see? flexible) — was vegetarian, but you can certainly adapt it to please meat eaters.

Shepherd’s pie is basically a mix of vegetables with or without meat, first sauteed together, then topped with a mashed-potato crust and baked until heated through. (You can also top it with biscuit dough for another variation.)

If you’ve got leftover mashed potatoes, so much the better. Otherwise, best to start by making a pot of these. You’ll need at least a couple of cups. (And instant potatoes work just fine.)

I then chopped a large onion, a couple of garlic cloves, a celery stalk and a large carrot. These went into a large skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil to sautee. I had 8 ounces of baby bella mushrooms and a jalapeno pepper on hand; cleaned and chopped, in they went, too.

vegetables for shepherd's pie

This pie had about four cups of assorted veggies. Add meat if you like, and a sauce of your choosing. Photo by Laura Groch

I found a can of mixed vegetables in the pantry. Tossed those in too. Other possibilities: canned or frozen peas, kidney, white or garbanzo beans, diced turnips, green beans, chopped kale or chard, chopped okra. Some, like zucchini or tomatoes or mushrooms, give off a lot of liquid, so take that into account as you put together your filling.

I seasoned it with a few shakes of sage and thyme, salt and pepper, and let it all cook down. I wanted about four cups of veggies, enough to fill a 9- or 10-inch-square casserole dish.

If you have leftover cooked meat or poultry, chop it and add it after the vegetables soften. Or sautee uncooked meat — about a cup — in a separate pan so you can pour off any fat before adding to your filling.

Next, I wanted some kind of sauce for the veggies. Some recipes call for tomatoes and cabbage, but those seem too juicy for me. I used a can of cheesy recipe sauce — you could use the standard can of mushroom soup, thinned a bit — or use a can of gravy. (Or make a couple of cups of bechamel (white) sauce, if you wish. See below.)

Or just go with whatever liquid is given off by your veggies, if that’s to your liking. Stir it into your casserole dish with the cooked veggie mixture.

shepherd's pie

Top your pie with a layer of mashed potatoes. Photo by Laura Groch

Top the casserole with 2 to 3 cups mashed potatoes and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmesan. Pop it into a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes or until it starts to bubble up at the edges, and you’re done.

So to recap:

SHEPHERD’S PIE

4-5 cups assorted sauteed vegetables (and maybe meat)

2 cups of sauce or gravy

2-3 cups mashed potatoes

And you’ve got yourself a hearty meal for a chilly, dreary, rainy winter night — of which there will be more to come. Enjoy!

EASY WHITE SAUCE (Bechamel)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

In medium saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter and stir it with the flour until it’s all blended. Add the milk and continue to stir or whisk until bubbling and thickened to your taste. Cool slightly and add to recipe. You can add herbs or a bit of salt for more flavor. Makes 2 cups.

(c) copyright 2016 Laura Groch

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