What would you call this: shepherd’s pie or cottage pie? I’m calling mine cottage pie, just because I use beef. It seems that both names are interchangeable, most people would add “incorrectly” now, but I won’t – I still have trouble remembering which is which! What I will tell you, for completeness is that when the dish is cooked with lamb or mutton then it’s shepherd’s pie. The amount of meat used is the same whatever you use. I am still making this, even though it’s July! (If you’re in Malta make it in January!) Yes…it’s still gloomy and wet and grey, alas…but cooking always makes me feel better so this is my recipe for instant comfort and calmness. Serves 6 – 8 friends.
For the meat sauce you need:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil and a knob of butter if you like
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 medium onions, diced
- 500g lean minced beef
- 4 rashers back bacon
- 2 teaspoons mixed spice
- ¼ teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 580g polpa di pomodoro (I use two 390g cartons/tins)
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- pinch of nutmeg
- dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- salt and pepper, around 1 teaspoon of each
For the mash:
- 800g – 1kg potatoes, peeled and cubed (I use King Edward; you can also use Maris Piper)
- knob of butter (around 20g)
- some milk to adjust the texture (you can also use some of the water in which the potato was boiled)
- pinch of salt and pepper, to taste
- To prepare the meat sauce, place a heavy based saucepan on the heat and add the oil and butter. Gently sweat the onion and garlic in the pan. When the onion turns translucent add the beef and bacon and the spices. After around 10 minutes add the polpa di pomodoro, bay leaf, sugar, nutmeg, salt and pepper. (I also like to add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.) Let the sauce reduce for a while on the heat. Then set aside.
- To prepare the mash, boil the potatoes and set some of their cooking water aside once they’re done. (Start with cold water.) Drain the rest of the water and place them in a large bowl. Mash using some muscle power and add milk or some of the cooking water (or a mixture of the two). Add butter for creaminess and salt and pepper for seasoning. Taste.
- To assemble the pie simply pour the meat sauce in the dish of your choice. (If you have an electric oven I find that a glass or earthenware dish works better than a ceramic one.) Gently cover this with the mashed potatoes in an even layer, but there’s no need to be too exact! I find that if I start by dotting around a few spoonfuls of mash at a time I will get a good result. When this is done take a fork and slowly scrape the top to create shallow grooves. You will end up with a crunchy topping. Delicious.
Useful links: The Potato Council (I’m not kidding! I’ll have to bookmark that…)