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Shepherd's Pie

Updated: May 30, 2021

This British-inspired rustic casserole is made with perfectly seasoned ground beef, fresh herbs, and veggies. We are replacing the traditional mashed potato topping with a roasted garlic cauliflower mash to make this dish a little lighter and healthier.


In just one spoonful you taste the depth of both layers: the topping – creamy mashed cauliflower with melted ghee, roasted garlic, and crispy brown bits; the filling – perfectly seasoned ground beef in a rich, decadent sauce with flavors of rosemary, thyme, and garlic – studded with fresh carrots, onions, and sweet peas.


It is pure comfort food! No canned soup required.

Recipe adapted from Eat what you love by Danielle Walker, page 250.


It has been gloomy, cold, and wet here all week. Ah, welcome to fall in St. Louis. When the days are nothing but dark and gray, I crave something hearty, warm, and comforting. This casserole is perfect.


It is probably my all-time favorite comfort dish.


I didn't grow up eating shepherd's pie when I was a kid. The first time I tried it was as an adult, shortly after I moved here. It was at a wonderful little gem called Growlers Pub just a little south of the City (apologies to my fellow locals who join me in mourning the loss of this amazing establishment).


As I looked over the menu, I couldn't help but notice the piping hot, mounding crocks of this wonderful casserole being served to the tables around me. I knew I had to try it. Their version was made with ground beef that was sautéed with onions, celery, carrots, and mushrooms, then mixed with rich beer gravy. It was all topped with herb mashed potatoes, cheddar cheese, and scallions. Delish!


I've been on a mission to find a recipe that could stand up to this one. In my research for a worthy replacement, I found lots of recipes that contained mainly processed ingredients: canned cream of mushroom soup, a tub of sour cream, canned or frozen mixed vegetables, boxed mashed potatoes, a ton of cheese, and canned fried onions. They were a far cry from what I remembered – until now.


If you want your version to have a more authentic flavor, feel free to use ground lamb (hence the name "shepherd's" pie). We are more of a beef-eating family here, so I will be using grass-fed ground beef. So, I guess, technically speaking, because I am swapping the lamb for beef, I am making a cottage pie or Cumberland pie, which is probably more traditional for Australia or New Zealand than to the United Kingdom. Feel free to use whatever ground meat you and your family prefer.


To get started you will need to make the roasted garlic cauliflower mash. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the garlic cloves in a heat-proof dish and drizzle them olive oil. Cover with foil and roast for about 15 to 20 minutes. The roasted garlic is ready when the cloves start to separate from the skins and they appear soft, creamy, and slightly golden-brown. Set aside to cool and decrease the oven temperature to 400 degrees.


To make the filling, melt 1 tablespoon of ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I highly recommend not replacing the ghee in this recipe for regular butter. We are using just enough to give it a rich, decadent, and buttery flavor. Add the diced onion and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until it is soft. Whisk in the bone broth, tomato paste, vinegar, gelatin, black garlic, fresh thyme, dried thyme, fresh rosemary, dried rosemary, allspice, and cloves. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer about 5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the black garlic has dissolved into the sauce. Remove the stems from the herbs, then transfer the mixture to a blender and add the dates; process for 30 seconds until smooth. Set aside.


If you are new to black garlic, it is a type of aged garlic whose browning is attributable to the Maillard reaction (a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor) rather than caramelization and was first used as an ingredient in Asian cuisine. It is made by heating whole bulbs of garlic for several weeks. The taste is sweet and syrupy with hints of balsamic vinegar or tamarind. You'll want to cut the cloves into small pieces then smash them into a paste using the flat side of your knife. They are sticky and have a soft, gummy-like texture. I use black garlic anytime I want a really deep, rich, umami flavor.


Wipe out the skillet and return it to medium-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of ghee and the minced garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. Add the ground beef (or lamb), 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, breaking up the meat, with a wooden spoon or spatula, until it is browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drain the fat from the pan.


Next, add the carrots and peas to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes. Stir the sauce into the meat mixture, then spread it evenly into a lightly greased 11x7-inch baking dish.


To finish the cauliflower mash, put the florets inside a steamer basket and set it inside a large skillet. Add about an inch of water. Heat over medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil. Cover, lower the heat to a simmer, and steam for about 10 minutes, just until the cauliflower is fork-tender. Alternatively, you can also use a rice/vegetable steamer. Drain well and transfer to a food processor. Add the roasted garlic (you'll want to squeeze them to remove them from their papery skins), chicken bone broth, melted ghee, salt, and pepper. Process for 15 to 20 seconds until it is smooth and fluffy.


Top the ground meat mixture with the mashed cauliflower, spreading it evenly and to the edges with a rubber spatula. Brush the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of melted ghee. Place the casserole on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the topping begins to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow it to rest about 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves if desired.


While this version is a little lighter than the original that I first tried all those years ago, it does not disappoint on flavor. By using real ingredients and taking the time to give each layer the time, attention, and love they deserve, we create a stellar upscale dish that will win over even the most discriminating casserole connoisseurs.


It doesn't need the cheese – I promise.


This recipe makes 6 to 8 servings.



To make this a meal prep meal: Cover the cooled casserole with plastic wrap and then wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight and bake as directed above.




Let's get cooking!

 

Ingredients


Roasted garlic:

  • 8 cloves garlic, unpeeled

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cauliflower mash:

  • 2 heads of cauliflower, cut into florets

  • 1/3 cup chicken bone broth

  • 6 tablespoons of melted ghee

  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons ghee

  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion

  • 2 cups beef bone broth

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste

  • 2 cloves of black garlic (diced up, then smashed into a paste)

  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin

  • 1 sprig fresh thyme

  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

  • 4 small pitted dates

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2-pounds grass-fed ground beef or lamb

  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 large carrots, diced (about 1 cup)

  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh English peas

 

How to make

Please sure to reference Eat what you love by Danielle Walker, page 250 for the complete recipe and instructions.


Roasted garlic:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

  2. Place the garlic cloves in a heatproof dish and drizzle them olive oil.

  3. Cover with foil and roast for about 15 to 20 minutes.

  4. Set aside to cool and decrease the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Cauliflower mash:

  1. Put the florets inside a steamer basket and set it inside a large skillet.

  2. Add about 1 inch of water.

  3. Heat over medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil.

  4. Cover, lower the heat to a simmer, and steam for about 10 minutes, just until the cauliflower is fork-tender.

  5. Drain well and transfer to a food processor.

  6. Add the roasted garlic (you'll want to squeeze them to remove them from their papery skins), chicken bone broth, melted ghee, salt, and pepper.

  7. Process for 15 to 20 seconds until it is smooth and fluffy.

Filling:

  1. Melt 1 tablespoon of ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

  2. Add the diced onion and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes until it is softened.

  3. Whisk in the bone broth, tomato paste, vinegar, gelatin, black garlic, fresh thyme, dried thyme, fresh rosemary, dried rosemary, allspice, and cloves.

  4. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer about 5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the black garlic has dissolved into the sauce.

  5. Remove the stems from the herbs, then transfer the mixture to a blender and add the dates; process for 30 seconds, until smooth.

  6. Set aside.

  7. Wipe out the skillet and return it to medium-high heat.

  8. Add the remaining tablespoon of ghee and the minced garlic to the pan.

  9. Cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds.

  10. Add the ground beef (or lamb), 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

  11. Cook, breaking up the meat, with a wooden spoon or spatula, until it is browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

  12. Drain the fat from the pan.

  13. Add the carrots and peas to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes.

  14. Stir the sauce into the meat mixture, then spread it evenly into a lightly greased 11x7-inch baking dish.

To assemble:

  1. Top the ground meat mixture with the mashed cauliflower, spreading it evenly and to the edges with a rubber spatula.

  2. Brush the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of melted ghee.

  3. Place the casserole on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the topping begins to brown.

  4. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow it to rest about 15 minutes before serving.

  5. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves if desired.

  6. Enjoy!

  7. Please scroll to the bottom to share your comments and feedback.


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