It is truly Autumn out there, leaves are turning and there is a definitely chill in the air first thing in the morning and in the evening. The days are shorter and it is dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home so it is definitely time for comfort food.
Pies are always comforting, fruit or savoury, encased in pastry or topped with mashed potato there is something lovely and reassuringly cosy about taking a pie dish out of the oven with the pie filling bubbling up through the golden crust and over the sides of the dish.
Shepherd’s pie is not glamourous but it is the perfect meal to follow a long walk in the crisp Autumn air, it is the kind of dish for a casual dinner party where you just place the pie in the middle of the table with a big serving spoon and let people help themselves. This is also a great dish to cook for celiac friends because as long as the stock cube is gluten free then the whole dish is.
450 grams of minced lamb
500 gram carton of tomato passata
½ glass of red wine
1 tablespoon of olive oil
I large onion finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 ribs of celery, finely diced
200 grams of button or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
I gluten free chicken or lamb stock cube
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme plus some thyme stalks
Salt & Pepper
• Place the cubed potatoes in a sauce pan and with one teaspoon of salt, cover the potatoes with water and bring to the boil.
• Once boiling pour out a third of the water and cover to pan. Reduce the heat to medium low and allow the potatoes to cook until tender.
• While the potatoes are cooking make the filling.
• Once cooked through drain the water from the potatoes and allow them to dry out a bit over a very low heat for a moment or two.
• Add the two ounces of butter, the milk, Dijon mustard and one teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of fresh black pepper and mash the potatoes. Cover them with a lid to keep them warm until you need them.
• While the potatoes are simmering away place a deep saute pan over a medium heat and add one tablespoon of oil.
• Add the onions, carrots and celery to the pan and cook until the onion is translucent but keep the heat low enough that the vegetables do not brown.
• Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring every now and then until the mushrooms are cooked and starting to brown.
• Add the mince, breaking it down with a wooden spoon and cook until fully browned.
• Add the stock cube and allow this to dissolve before stirring in the tomato passata and red wine
• Add the salt, pepper, bay leaf and the teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves and you can throw in the thyme stalks for a bit of extra flavour. A good tip is to keep your fresh thyme in a bag in the freezer as this will cause the leaves to fall off and you will not have the very tedious task of plucking off the leaves.
• Allow the sauce to bubble up for a minute before reducing the heat and leaving to simmer uncovered for twenty minutes.
• Preheat your oven to Gas 4/ 180 / 350f
• Taste for seasoning and then remove the bay leaf and thyme stalks
• Pour the sauce in to a 9” x 9” square casserole or pie dish, or any dish that will hold a similar volume.
• Using a spoon dot the mashed potatoes gently over the filling and then use a knife to smooth out the potatoes until the filling is fully covered.
• Run the tip of a fork over the top of the potatoes sop you get ridges which will crisp up nicely in the oven.
• I chose not to in this instance but if you feel the need now would be the time to sprinkle over some sharp cheddar, gruyere or parmesan cheese.
• Place the pie in the preheated oven and leave to bake for twenty to twenty five minutes until the top is golden and the tomato sauce is bubbling up around the edges. It will save you cleaning the floor of your oven if you place the pie dish on a baking tray as the sauce is almost guaranteed to bubble over.
Leave the pie to sit for about fifteen minutes before serving, you should get six portions. This pie freezes and reheats really well and it is a lovely thing to realise when you come home after a long day that there is a portion of this very comforting dinner in the freezer ready and waiting.