1It was the Spring Equinox last Tuesday marking the official start of spring and now Palm Sunday is here, with sub-zero temperatures, snow falling most of the day, blossoms encased in ice and kids walking by on their way to the park with their sledges.
Thousands of homes here in the UK are without electricity, so we feel lucky to be snug by the fire, with our candles burning for cosiness and not out of necessity
This weather calls for hearty food, so we have had a very nourishing beef and vegetable cottage pie for dinner today. My daughter commented recently that cottage pie is one of the few things I ever taught her to cook, so this one’s for you, my sweet Swiss rose!
We had a variation on Delia Smith’s recipe (below). What did I tweak this time? Well, I didn’t have a swede, and needed to use up some cabbage and a red pepper. I confess that I didn’t chop the veg as small as I should have done. For the swede I substituted a parsnip, which melts to a pleasant creamy consistency, and also added a stick of celery. The cabbage, celery and red pepper all seemed to melt away completely, just enhancing the flavour, and I also added some Worcestershire sauce, about a teaspoonful of horseradish that was left in the jar, an Oxo cube, a couple of cloves of garlic and half a teaspoonful of nutmeg to complement the cinnamon. Oh, I used a dessertspoonful of cinnamon. And I only needed one leek, not two.
Cottage / Shepherd’s Pie with Cheesy-Leek Crust
This recipe can be made with either fresh minced lamb (shepherd’s pie), fresh minced beef (cottage pie) or minced leftover beef or lamb from a cooked joint (in which case, cut the initial cooking time to 15 minutes). In the following recipe we’re using fresh minced lamb, and what puts this dish into the five-star category is the delicious crust of cheese and leeks.
1 lb (450 g) minced lamb
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
3 oz /75 g) carrots, peeled and chopped very small
3 oz /75 g) swede, peeled and chopped very small
½ level teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 level tablespoon plain flour
1 level tablespoon tomato purée
salt and freshly milled pepper
For the topping
2 oz (50 g) mature Cheddar cheese, coarsely ground
2 medium leeks, cleaned and cut into ½” (1 cm) slices
2 lb (900 g) Désirée or King Edward potatoes
2 oz (50 g) butter
salt and freshly milled pepper
You will also need a large lidded frying pan or saucepan, and a 7½ inch (19 cm) square baking dish, 2 inches (5 cm) deep, well buttered
Begin by taking the frying pan or saucepan and, over a medium flame, gently heat the olive oil. Now fry the onions in the hot oil until they are tinged brown at the edges – about 5 minutes. Add the chopped carrot and swede and cook for 5 minutes or so, then remove the vegetables and put them to one side.
Now turn the heat up and brown the meat in batches, tossing it around to get it all nicely browned. You may find a wooden fork helpful here, as it helps to break up the mince. After that, give the meat a good seasoning of salt and pepper, then add the cooked vegetables, cinnamon, thyme and parsley.
Next, stir in the flour, which will soak up the juice, then gradually add the stock to the meat mixture until it is all incorporated. Finally, stir in the tomato purée. Now turn the heat right down, put the lid on the pan and let it cook gently for about 30 minutes.
While the meat is cooking you can make the topping. Peel the potatoes, cut them into even-sized pieces and place in a steamer fitted over a large pan of boiling water, sprinkle with some salt, put a lid on and steam until they’re completely tender – about 25 minutes. While this is happening, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).
When the potatoes are done, drain off the water, return them to the saucepan, cover with a clean tea cloth to absorb the steam and leave them for about 5 minutes. Next, add the butter and mash them to a purée – the best way to do this is with an electric hand whisk. Don’t be tempted to add any milk here, because the mashed potato on top of the pie needs to be firm. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
When the meat is ready, spoon it into the baking dish and level it out with the back of the spoon. After that, spread the mashed potato evenly all over. Now sprinkle the leeks on top of the potato, scatter the cheese over the leeks and bake the whole thing on a high shelf of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the top is crusty and golden.