To say I’m an Anglophile is an understatement. But I come by it naturally, as 5/8 of my lineage can be traced back to the British Isles. More significantly, my British predecessors were the most recent in my family to arrive in the United States, the latest being my maternal grandfather, who emigrated from Scotland in 1930. I’ve always been proud of my English, Scottish, and Welsh heritages, and often find myself celebrating them through traditional British fare. One of my favorite dishes is cottage pie. It’s similar to the more well-known shepherds pie in that you have a mixture of meat and vegetables buried beneath a mashed potato topping; the notable difference is that beef is used in cottage pie, while shepherds pie traditionally has lamb.
I first enjoyed cottage pie while eating at the Rose and Crown Pub in Walt Disney World’s World Showcase in EPCOT. I fell in love with it, craved it, and looked forward to eating it every time my mum and I returned on our yearly pilgrimage. Then I found a recipe in the October 2006 Everyday Food Magazine (an offshoot of Martha Stewart Living), which reminded me greatly of the meal. I made it so often, the recipe was burned into my brain. But over the years, I found myself altering it to suit my tastes. This recipe is the product of my tinkering. It has become a family favorite and is our ultimate comfort food. It is easily doubled to feed more people and can be made in advance. If you do make it ahead of time, be sure to store the beef-vegetable filling and mashed potato topping separately, then assemble the dish before placing in the oven. If the filling and topping are coming directly from the refrigerator, add 5 minutes to the baking time.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 large carrot, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large parsnip, quarter lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 lb ground beef, 90% lean
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup frozen peas
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large baking potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1/2 cup 2% milk
8 oz. sharp white cheddar, freshly grated and divided
1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Swirl oil to coat the surface of the skillet.
3. Once the olive oil is shimmering, add the diced onion to the skillet and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until softened, about five minutes.
4. Add the sliced carrots, parsnips, celery, dried thyme, and half a teaspoon of each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to the skillet. Sauté, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.
5. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Cook, stirring with the wooden spoon, for 1 minute.
6. Add the tomato paste to the vegetable mixture. Cook, stirring to combine, 1 minute.
7. Using the wooden spoon, move the vegetable mixture to the outer ring of the skillet, leaving an exposed space in the center of the pan. Add the ground beef to the exposed center; use the wooden spoon to crumble the meat. Stir the vegetable mixture into the crumbled beef and cook, stirring often, until the meat is no longer pink, between 5-10 minutes.
8. Once the beef-vegetable mixture is cooked through, add the water, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tsp each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to the skillet; stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer the mixture until thickened, about 10 minutes.
9. Add the frozen peas to the mixture (they need not be thawed, as the heat from the skillet will do the job). Taste the mixture to determine if any extra seasoning is necessary.
10. Meanwhile, make the potato topping. Place the thinly sliced potatoes in a medium sauce pot. Sprinkle the 1 Tbsp kosher salt onto the potatoes, then add water to the pot until the potatoes are just covered. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes a fork tender.
11. Using a lid set on top of the sauce pot, drain the potatoes. Return the sauce pot to the same burner on the stovetop. Turn the heat up to medium and stir the potatoes with a wooden spoon until any remaining water has evaporated.
12. Off the heat, mash the potatoes using a hand-held mixer or potato masher. Add the milk and mix (or mash) until smooth. The consistency should be slightly runny—if it’s not, add milk 1 Tbsp at a time until it is.
13. Add 4 oz of the shredded cheddar cheese to the potato mixture. Mix, mash, or stir it in to combine and distribute evenly into the potatoes.
14. Spread the beef-vegetable mixture into the bottom of a 2 quart (or similar sized) baking dish. Top the beef-vegetable mixture with the cheddar mashed potatoes. Sprinkle the remaining 4 oz grated cheddar over the top.
15. Bake the Cottage Pie for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot.
“Shepherds Pie,” Everyday Food Magazine. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, October 2006.