You are looking at (or more accurately reading about) a girl who loves Irish and European peasant food. Most people squint and look at me oddly when I say this. I can picture you on the other side of the screen, giving me the side eye.
Hear me out, as this type of cuisine has a bad rap. Some think it is too plain, too boring, and lacks flavor. I tend to disagree, or rather I enjoy taking these classics and infusing them with fresh ingredients and bold flavors that transform them into a wow dish. Few things are more fulfilling than healthy and satisfying food.
And we haven’t even addressed the best part. This type of food is incredibly simple and affordable. Peasant dishes were created to feed large families on a budget. Which despite what many may think, does not mean they aren’t quality dishes. They have been around for hundreds of years after all.
Speaking of which, did you know that Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie are actually two different dishes? Sure, they are used interchangeably and often refer to the same dish. Technically speaking though, the dish is called Shepherd’s Pie when lamb is the main protein, and Cottage Pie when beef is the main protein.
This dish has roots in many European countries, including Ireland, Scotland, England, France, and even in other areas of the world such as India and Chile. All have their own spin on the ingredients, especially the topping, but they have a similar origin. Using leftover or low budget protein (i.e. ground meat), mixed with several winter vegetables cooked in gravy or sauce, and topped with potatoes.
Also, the traditional version is an actual pie. Meaning, there is a bottom crust, usually comprised of potato and/or bread crumbs, and baked in a pie dish.
Knowing this history makes the dishes comforting in and of themselves. We know families have been enjoying them for decades and passing them down through the generations. They are tried and true and revered for good reason.
Thanks to our food obsessed society, we can deviate from how they are written. Meaning, we can easily modify dishes to incorporate our own preferences and dietary needs, or even create entirely new dishes “based on” the original.
I have been making Shepherd’s Pie for years, it is an annual late winter/early spring dish I always serve around St. Patrick’s Day. I have tried many forms, from traditional to contemporary.
After all this testing, I can tell you my personal testament for the best Sheperd’s Pie includes the following elements. Whether you use our recipe or another version, keep these in mind:
- Use a mix of lamb and beef. This is all personal preference, but we feel a mix of the two has the best flavor.
- Gravy over sauce. We like the pie filling to be thick and creamy, where most cooks into the meat mixture and what’s left leaves little moisture behind.
- Use fresh herbs. They add a delicate spice and a burst of freshness.
- Leave out the bottom crust. Not only does a double crust add extra carbs, but the bottom tends to get mushy. Most likely you will have leftovers, and not having a bottom crust means avoiding a soggy mess the next day.
- Prep and bake in the same pan. Here is where a cast iron or other oven-proof safe pan comes in handy. Cook the meat and veggies in the pan, add your topping and place the entire thing in the oven.
Most recently, I adjusted the recipe yet again to make a Paleo-friendly option. This latest creation includes our ultimate favorite potato substitute, the Trilogy Puree. This creamy combo has a better texture than its counterpart and also lends extra layers of flavor from the mix of vegetables.
Join me, friends, as we celebrate food culture and revel in the classic dishes our ancestors created. They are our history, just as food evolution is our future.
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- 1 recipe Trilogy Puree
- 2 pounds ground lamb and/or beef (we like 1 pound of each)
- 1 tablespoon ghee or butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, separated
- ½ teaspoon pepper, separated
- 1 large leek, sliced into thin half moons
- 8 ounces baby Bella mushrooms, sliced thin
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1½ tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 teaspoons Paleo-friendly Worcestershire
- ¼ cup dry red wine (optional)
- 1 cup beef bone broth or stock
- ½ cup frozen peas (optional)
- Prepare Trilogy Purée and set aside. Preheat oven to 450.
- Heat ghee or butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium high. Add lamb/beef and season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Sauté until nearly cooked through, about 6 minutes. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set side in a heatproof bowl. Discard all but 3 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Reduce heat to medium.
- Add carrots, leeks, and mushrooms along with remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook until vegetables are softened and leeks are translucent 8-10 minutes.
- Add tomato paste, garlic, and herbs and stir to combine. Cook stirring constantly until incorporated and fragrant, about a minute.
- Pour in all liquids and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until sauce reduces by a ⅓, about 10 minutes.
- Turn off heat and stir in cooked meat and frozen peas. Set pan aside to cool slightly.
- Top meat mixture with cooked purée and smooth into an even layer. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping is browned and pie is bubbling. Remove from oven and let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.
**If you are not a fan of lamb, use all ground beef.
***For a thicker gravy, cook sauce an additional 5-10 minutes.
Recipe adapted from: http://nomnompaleo.com/post/
Items used in this recipe:
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