Shepherd’s Pie with Cheddar Potato Topping
St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday. After dropping my son off at school I remembered, having dressed him in nothing green. With blog posts and Instagram feeds full of “pot o’ gold” crafts, kids decked out in green and green or Irish foods, I knew I’d failed as a mom and food blogger. I figured I should make something for dinner that night that was somewhat Irish, even though I’ve never been big on the holiday. The more important thing about March 17 is that it’s my niece’s birthday! Happy 4th birthday, Maren!
I’d seen a few people posting pics of their beautiful Irish soda breads on social media, but I am kind of breaded out at the moment. The next thing that popped into my head was Shepherd’s Pie. A complete meal with meat, veggies and starch all in one pan!
I found an easy and basic recipe, made a quick grocery list and headed to the store. This one from Martha is basically what I made, but with a few changes. I also took some tips from a cookbook just recently added to my collection, America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.
In perusing recipes I found some call this dish Shepherd’s Pie, and others call it Cottage Pie. What’s the difference? Opinions differ as to whether or not there is one. Cottage pie was the term first used for the dish. But over time people began calling it Cottage pie if it contained beef and Shepherd’s pie if it contained lamb. A lot of what I’ve read says you can use either term.
This meal wound up being quite good, a terrific comfort food, and something you can make in advance. Cook the meat filling and the potatoes, store them separately, refrigerate for up to 1 day, then layer in the casserole and bake when you’re ready. You can even assemble this in the morning, refrigerate it and bake it in the evening. I’d recommend adding a little extra milk to the potatoes if you’re going to make it in advance. For some reason I feel like letting mashed potatoes sit in the fridge dries them out. This might not be true, but it just makes me feel better to add a little extra liquid. No one likes dry potatoes. A couple tablespoons should be enough.
I like the combination of carrots, celery, onion and peas in this, but you can leave the peas out if you’re not a fan, or add corn to the mix. If you don’t have fresh thyme, use 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves. Instead of water use leftover beef or chicken broth. It’s not enough to justify opening a new container, but if you have 1 cup that needs to be used, this is a fine time to use it. Instead of sharp white cheddar you can use regular cheddar cheese, or leave it out if you like. Use the combination of 2% milk and cream, or use all whole milk or all 2%. The cream adds a nice richness, but isn’t totally necessary.
You don’t need to serve this with anything, but pairing it with a crispy green salad is a good way to round out the meal. Enjoy!
Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart
- 1 pound ground beef
- 4 stalks celery, cut in half lengthwise then chopped
- 4 carrots, cut into quarters lengthwise then chopped
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup water or broth
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup frozen peas
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 large russet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup 2% milk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 egg
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and drizzle with a little olive or vegetable oil. Add in the beef and cook, breaking up the pieces until it is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.
- Line a large plate with paper towels and remove meat from the pan to drain on the paper towels.
- Return the pan to the heat and add in onion, celery and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables become tender. Season with a pinch of salt and the thyme.
- Add in the flour and tomato paste and stir to combine, cook for 2 minutes.
- Add in the water or broth, stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add in the peas, stir and let cook for 3-5 minutes.
- Peel the potatoes and then cut into small chunks.
- Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cool water.
- Place pan over high heat and cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork,
- Drain the water from the potatoes, then return to the pan and begin mashing to release some of the steam, mash for about 1 minute.
- Add in the butter and milk along with some salt. Mash it up, then add in the cheese and continue to mash until it reaches a consistency that you like. Add in more milk if the potatoes seem dry, and taste and adjust seasonings.
- Mix in egg.
Assemble and Bake
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Spray a casserole dish (a deep 8×8, 9×9 or 11×17) with non-stick spray.
- Layer beef mixture on the bottom of the pan, then layer potatoes on top and spread evenly.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top begins to brown.