Homeschool,  Vermont

shepherd’s pie for tomorrow

I mentioned in my homeschool newsletter last week that Wednesdays are peak-energy days for us. From the earliest crest of morning I am loading up the car with all sorts of things for the class I teach, reminding the girls not to forget their things, changing Esme into new, post-breakfast clothes and for once washing her face well, packing a group lunch and separate snacks, jumping into the car with my coffee half drank and chilled (but preciously, preciously saved for the drive). The day carries on in this way like a merry rattling wooden cart driving through a parade until we pull back in to our drive around 5pm and spill out, papers and crafts asunder, into Joe’s arms.

At which point I am ravenously hungry, tired, proud, and socially spent, already eager for 7am the next day when I won’t be getting out of bed.

In acknowledgment of the vortex of Wednesday, I’ve been treating myself (the cook) and us (the collective household) by making its dinner the night before. I make it alongside whatever I’m making Tuesday night. It’s twice the dishes, twice the sizzling pans on the stove, and often feels it, but then two dinners are done.

I’ve been making: Dorie Greenspan’s mediterranean shepherd’s pie.

So once home, I pour a glass of wine, put the pie in the oven to warm up and toast the mashed potatoes on top a bit, and put my feet up. It’s really quite a moment. I’ve noticed the whole family picks up on this herald of relaxing. With so few dishes to do after dinner, we find ourselves with books in the living room earlier than most evenings.

Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for shepherd’s pie is so flavorful and juicy; it reheats beautifully for the next couple of days. I love the strong pour of butternut squash mixed in, the tomatoes, and even spinach, if you wish. The addition of sausage is absolutely genius, it adds so much flavor.

Naturally shepherd’s pie is most of my children’s nightmare dish–with the medley of mysterious vegetables and thick layer of sauced-meat–save for the two-year-old who loves it. I make something very easy for the kids to serve alongside–bread and cheese, pasta with cheese, etc.

Mediterranean Shepherd’s Pie, by Dorie Greenspan, from Everyday Dorie

For the potatoes
  • 2-1/2 pounds (about 1 kg) Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4-6 tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream
  •  Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
For the filling
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound (454 gm) ground lamb, beef, turkey or chicken
  • 1/2 pound (227 gm) hot or mild sausage meat (pork, chicken or turkey)
  • 1 medium onion coarsely chopped, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 garlic cloves, germ removed and minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  •  freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground sumac, or grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons za’atar or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon harissa paste, or 1-1/2 teaspoons harissa powder
  • 1 cup (200 gm) canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound (227 gm) peeled butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 handfuls baby kale or spinach
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter cut into bits, or olive oil (optional)

Note: I have all these spices that she calls for here, and I recommend them! They are lots of fun and worth purchasing. 

To make the potatoes
  1. Drop the potato chunks into a large pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the potatoes mash easily when pressed against the side of the pot, 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Drain the potatoes, put the empty pot back over medium heat, return the potatoes to the pot and cook, stirring and turning them, for about 1 minute, until they are dry. Spoon the potatoes into a food mill or ricer set over a bowl and run them through it. (Of course, you can mash the potatoes with a fork, but a mill or ricer will make them fluffier.) Stir the butter and ¼ cup of the milk or cream into the potatoes, along with ample salt and pepper, and taste them — add more of whatever you think they need. Set aside.
  3. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees F. Put a deep-dish pie plate (or an ovenproof casserole with a capacity of about 2 quarts) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
To make the filling
  1. Put a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and when it’s hot, add the ground meat and sausage. Cook, stirring and pressing the meat with a wooden spoon to break it up, for about 2 minutes; as you’re cooking, drizzle in up to 1 more tablespoon of oil if you think you need it. Then add another tablespoon of oil, along with the onion and garlic, season with the salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook over low heat until the onions soften, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the chicken broth, turn the heat up a little and use the spoon to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Stir in the spices and cook for a minute, then add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer. Scatter over the pieces of squash, cover the pan (with its lid or a baking sheet) and cook over low heat until the squash is fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in the kale or spinach and taste for salt and pepper. (You can make the filling up to 2 days ahead and keep it tightly covered in the refrigerator.)
  3. Spoon the filling into the pie plate, adding enough of the liquid in the pan to come up and around the edges of the mix. (There’s usually just the right amount left in the skillet. My own preference is to go for juicier rather than drier.) Top with the potatoes, smoothing them over the filling or making swoops and swirls out to the edges of the pie plate. (At this point, the pie can be refrigerated until cool, wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.) If you’d like, dot the top of the potatoes with the butter or brush them with a little olive oil.
  4. Bake the pie for 30 to 40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the potatoes are browned here and there. If you’d like to get them crusty brown, run them under the broiler. Serve immediately, preferably in shallow soup plates.
Recipe Notes

WORKING AHEAD: You can make the filling up to 2 days ahead and keep it refrigerated, covered. Alternatively, you can assemble the pie, freeze it for up to 2 months and bake it straight from the freezer. To do this, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and count on it taking about 1 hour to heat through. If the potatoes brown too much before the liquid starts to bubble, tent the pie loosely with foil. I like to get the potatoes going while I’m working on the filling. If you’d prefer, make the filling first. Either way, keep in mind that the potatoes will be easier to spread over the filling if they’re warm.

STORING: You can keep leftover pie covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat, covered, in a conventional or microwave oven.

CHOICES: You can use turnips or green peas instead of the squash, or just skip the extra vegetable. You can also forgo the potatoes and the pie part of the dish entirely — the filling is so fragrant, tasty and chunky that you might want it just the way it is. Pull out a bun and make a sloppy Joe, or grab a wedge of cornbread and smother it with the juicy meat. If you plan ahead, you can make some rice or a pot of beans and use the filling as a spoon-over.

ONIONS, SHALLOTS AND GARLIC: To help get all the good flavor from onions and shallots, I take a quick extra step at prep time. After I’ve sliced or chopped them, I rinse them under cold water and then pat them dry. The short rinse washes away the bitter liquid that’s drawn out when you cut them. If I’m using the onion (or shallot) raw in a salad, I sometimes rinse it and then let the slices sit in a bowl of cold water — the chill gives them added crunch. Unless I’m using whole garlic cloves, smashed or otherwise, I always cut each peeled clove in half the long way so that I can chisel out the green germ that runs the length of it. I learned this trick years ago when I was working with the chef Daniel Boulud, who had learned it years before when he was an apprentice in France. Removing the germ tones down garlic’s brashest flavors, and it may make the garlic more easily digestible — the jury’s still out on that.

SUMAC: A tangy spice, ground sumac has a flavor reminiscent of lemon. You can find it readily in shops specializing in foods from the Middle East. If you don’t have sumac, substitute freshly grated lemon zest.

ZA’ATAR: A blend of dried thyme, oregano and marjoram, sometimes mixed with sumac and roasted sesame seeds, za’atar is a popular Middle Eastern seasoning. If you don’t have za’atar, you can substitute ground thyme, oregano or marjoram, or a mix of these herbs, and add sesame seeds or not.

HARISSA: A ferociously hot North African spice blend, harissa can be bought as a ground spice mix or as a paste in tubes, cans and jars. Chiles, primarily red ones, are the most important and abundant ingredient, but they’re blended with garlic and other spices (like cumin and coriander) and, in the case of the pastes, oil. If you buy harissa powder, you can mix it with oil or water to make a paste. Harissa powders and pastes vary from brand to brand. I find the most variation in the pastes — some are stronger, some are sweeter. If harissa interests you, search for your favorite. Instead of harissa powder, you can use chile powder. For the paste, substitute your favorite hot sauce, Thai red chili paste or sambal oelek.

–From Everyday Dorie, by Dorie Greenspan


  • Susie

    That part about being eager for the next day when you won’t be up so early — yes, it is tremendously psychologically calming to have those next mornings built into the schedule.

  • Colleen

    Oh I hear you on those busy days! It can feel like you’re facing a mountain when you start out. I call things like making dinner ahead and your precious car coffee ‘doing myself a favor’.

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