I invited a friend over for dinner the other night before I’d planned out the menu. We got back to my house at the end of a long day and I had a brief panic attack trying to figure out what I was going to feed myself, my child, and our guest. Luckily, I had been gifted a bag full of goodies from the Coppell Farmer’s Market and had quite a bit to work with, including a number of lovely root vegetables and some ground meats. I posted a different cottage pie recipe using bison last year, but I find this recipe to be a vast improvement.
The farmer’s market in winter is the best place to gather all the goodies for a cottage pie. A cottage pie recipe is less of a rulebook and more of a guideline. All you need is the basic architecture: a good base of chopped vegetables and browned meat, a hearty gravy, and a whipped tuber topping. I prefer a sweet potato topping over the more traditional one with russets, but both are delightful. You can also use ground lamb for a true shepherds pie, or turkey for a leaner option. Any variety of vegetables will do for the base, as long as you start with sauteed onions and garlic, and generally avoid the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.
The key to building flavor is to make sure you sweat your savory vegetables first (onions, garlic, and carrots), and adequately brown your meat. In order to get a caramelized sear on ground meat, bring a dry, heavy-bottomed skillet up to medium-high heat until it’s VERY hot. Add the meat and let it sear until it’s dark brown and crispy before flipping it to the other side. If you’re working with a lot of meat, it’s sometimes best to do this in batches, or it will give off too much moisture in the pan to reach a good temperature. The brown bits that stick to the bottom form the base for your pan sauce.
Cottage Pie with Sweet Potatoes
24 oz. ground, grass-fed beef
8 oz. pork sausage
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped roughly
5 carrots, chopped roughly
1 red or yellow beet, peeled and chopped roughly
1 TBS fresh sage, minced
2 TBS fresh rosemary, minced
1 quart beef stock, separated
2 TBS flour
1 cup hearty red wine
1 TBS tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
3-4 medium sized sweet potatoes
½ cup milk
2 sticks (8 oz) butter, divided
- Prick sweet potatoes with a knife to vent and microwave on high until cooked through (roughly 5 minutes). Let cool before peeling. Mash the sweet potatoes with about 4 TBS butter and milk until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Heat 3 TBS butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven (must be oven safe) until melted. Add onions, garlic, carrots, and parsnips to sweat. Once the onions are translucent and fragrant, add chopped beets and 2 cups beef stock. Cover and cook on medium heat until cooked through.
- While the vegetables are cooking, pre-heat an iron skillet to medium-high and add ground beef and pork to brown. Let the meat sear until crispy and brown before flipping. When the meat is cooked through, remove it from the pan and set aside.
- Drain off most of the liquid in the pan (if you’re using grass-fed beef, there might not be any!). Decrease heat to medium-low and add 3 TBS butter. Scrape and stir the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with the butter. Add dried thyme. Whisk in the flour until well incorporated. When the mixture bubbles, whisk in 1 cup beef broth (more, if needed) to form a thick sauce. If it seizes, don’t panic. Just add more liquid and whisk vigorously. Stir in the wine and tomato sauce and let cook until it’s the consistency of gravy.
- Once the veggies are fork tender, remove the lid from the dutch oven and let some of the cooking liquid reduce. Add cooked meat and gravy. Top with mashed sweet potato to cover.
- Place under a low broil for 10-15 minutes, or until the peaks on the potatoes start to brown. Serve with crusty bread.