When the snow falls and we're housebound, there's nothing easier or more comforting than shepherd's pie.
Traditionally, it's a farmhouse dish of lamb and vegetables topped with golden mashed potatoes. When made with beef it's called cottage pie, but it's delicious filled with a range of ingredients — chicken, duck, pork, ham, fish, sausage or whatever vegetables are in season. No matter what you call it, this is a meal for the winter-weary and a great use of the odds and ends from previous meals.
My favorite take on this classic recipe is heavy on veggies and herbs. All sorts of vegetables make great candidates for the pie, depending on the season. Right now, I favor roasted root vegetables — carrots, parsnips, turnips, sunchokes, golden beets and squash. Though most recipes bind the filling with a floury white sauce, a spoonful or two of the mashed potato topping whisked in gives it some body without the pasty taste and keeps it gluten-free. Shots of wine and Worcestershire sauce give it a meaty boost.
The crown of mashed potatoes, as opposed to the pastry crust that caps most pot pies, defines this dish. I like to use the Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn, with their deep, buttery color, and mash them with parsnips for a touch of sweet earthiness.
The original recipe for shepherd's pie was created as a way to use up leftovers, so it's open to interpretation. Try switching out the herbs for curry spices or toss in a few chopped chiles for a kick. This makes a simple weeknight dinner served right from the pot or Dutch oven it's made in; for a more formal presentation, divide the filling among individual ovenproof dishes before topping it with the potatoes and baking it to a lovely buttery gold finish.
Shepherd's Pie (vegetarian version)
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: The recipe is easily halved, or leftovers freeze nicely. To roast vegetables, cut them into 1 1/2-inch chunks and toss with about 2 tablespoons of oil to coat. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with coarse salt. Roast in a 400-degree oven until tender and nicely browned around the edges, about 15 to 20 minutes. From Beth Dooley.
For the topping:
• 2 lb. Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn potatoes, peeled and quartered
• 1 medium parsnip, scrubbed and quartered
• 1 tbsp. salt
• 1/2 c. heavy cream
• 1/2 c. milk
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the filling:
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1 large onion, diced
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed
• 1/2 lb. sliced cremini mushrooms
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tbsp. tomato paste
• 1/2 c. dry white wine
• 1 c. chicken or vegetable stock
• 3 lb. roasted root vegetables (see Note)
• 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
• 1 tbsp. chopped thyme
To prepare the topping: In a large deep pot, combine the potatoes and parsnips with enough water to cover and then add the salt. Set the pot over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain in a colander.
Transfer the potatoes and parsnips back to the pot and add the cream, milk and butter and mash until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To prepare the filling: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large deep pot, melt the butter over low heat and add the onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until they release their juices, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, wine and stock, scraping up any of the browned bits sticking to the bottom. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the mashed potatoes and simmer until the liquid thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the vegetables and parsley and thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer the filling to one casserole dish or several ovenproof dishes. Top with the mashed potatoes. Place on a baking sheet and bake until the mashed potatoes are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.