Fall is finally settling in here in NC. Early this morning I ran around the house changing the blinds to let in the sun, and switching over to the heater as it was CCCOOOLLLDDD!
Even yesterday as I sat in a light drizzle while enjoying college football with friends, I was particularly mindful of the fast-approaching holiday season. Much like breaking in a new pair of shoes before a big event, I like to slowly start re-introducing the big event “comfort food” dishes that you see at Thanksgiving and Christmas in pieces, prepping and adjusting them along the way so that the big meals made under the pressure of feeding the hungry hordes doesn’t feel so rushed and not quite what I wanted to serve.
A comfort food I’ve heard of but never (until this month) tried is Shepherd’s Pie. Akin to chicken pot pie, it was simply never terribly interesting to me… If I’m going to bake a meal in one pot, I’d prefer an effortless stew… But when I saw the flavor combinations in What Katie Ate’s version, I knew I should give it a try. Now, this version is completely veggie-less, making some basic sides a necessity for a well-balanced meal, but I think you’ll agree that the end result is definitely worth it and all it takes is a basic salad to balance the heavy meat and potatoes.
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
Start the topping by preheating the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap the half of a garlic head in foil, and place on a baking sheet to roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool slightly, then unwrap and squeeze from the bottom to release the soft garlic cloves from their papery skin.
During this time you can start boiling the potatoes by placing the potatoes in a large pot half filled with cold water and seasoned heartily with salt. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking until you can easily pierce into the center of the potatoes with a knife.
Once the potatoes are boiled, you have a choice. Do you want a super-smooth, albeit labor-intensive mashed potato topping? If so, break up the potatoes with a masher and follow with a sieve or ricer until it's how you like it. I, however, am far too impatient, and much prefer to break out my handheld blender for such jobs, so I begin by breaking up the potatoes roughly, then add in the milk, yogurt, butter, cheddar and parmesan, mixing everything together with my blender until I'm satisfied. If your potatoes are too stiff, feel free to add a tablespoon or two of butter & milk...(However, you do want these mashed potatoes to be a bit stiffer than your average thanksgiving side dish, as it needs to hold up on top of your pie - it is the crust, after all!)
In a large (read: VERY large) skillet (or dutch oven works too), heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until softened (about 4 minutes), then add garlic for another 4 minutes.
Next add in your beef, breaking it up into an even consistency, and cook until browned, stirring regularly.
Finally, stir in your broth, paste, sauces, nutmeg, thyme and rosemary, season it with salt and pepper, and allow it to simmer for around 30 minutes until the sauce is thickened, rolling slowly off the back of your spoon and sticking to the sides of your pot. Pour the entire mixture carefully into a casserole dish.
Dollop the mashed potatoes over the filling and top with a generous handful of parmesan.
Bake for 45 minutes, at which time the topping should be golden, and your sauce bubbling up the sides and middle.
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