Shepherd’s Pie

Learning to cook is an ongoing, ever evolving process. There is always something new to learn, a project to tackle, a higher level of understanding that I want to reach.

I mentioned in a previous post that the first person to teach me to cook was my mom. I observed what she did, how the pie dough looked when it was ready, and I learned a lot. She realized that cooking was something that I was interested in, so she let me take an introductory cooking class when I was seven and then a bread baking class when I was nine.

The most important thing I learned from those classes was how to use a recipe. It seemed incredible that all I had to do was follow the instructions and then I could make anything. My grandma gave me a kid’s cookbook the same year that I took the bread baking class. I cooked my way through it and gained confidence with each new recipe that I tried.

As an adult I continue to learn new techniques by following other people’s recipes. There is something really satisfying about working my way through a cookbook; I start to feel like the author is there with me in my kitchen and I’m learning their secrets.

But other people’s recipes can only take you so far. Lately I’ve been imagining something I want to cook, and I can’t find a recipe that meets my expectations. I have made shepherd’s pie before, and while the recipes were good, I felt like a few things were lacking. I wanted an actual crust to my “pie,” not just a casserole. But my biggest problem was with the mashed potato topping. It seemed too bland, too smooth; its texture was too much of a juxtoposition with the earthy and crumbly lamb filling. That’s when I got the idea to make a mashed cauliflower topping instead. There is something about the way the topping and filling really work together in this dish. I still have lots to learn about pre-baking a pie crust–something to work on another day.

Shepherd’s Pie (my creation)

  • 1/3 of a large head of cauliflower, florets only
  • 2 medium butter potatoes, peeled & cut into chunks
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 pre-baked pie crust (see Notes)
  1. Put potatoes in a pot and add water to cover. Boil for 20 minutes. Steam cauliflower for 15 minutes (see Notes for tips on how to do this).
  2. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until softened (about 8 minutes). Add lamb and cook until browned. Add peas and cook for 2 minutes. Add flour and Worcestershire sauce and cook until the liquid is thickened (about 2 more minutes). Season with salt & pepper. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Drain the water off of the potatoes. Add the steamed cauliflower to the pot. Add the butter and half & half. Mash together until creamy (don’t worry if there are some chunky spots). Stir in 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese and season with salt.
  5. Pour the lamb mixture into the pre-baked pie crust. Spoon the cauliflower mixture over top and spread out evenly. Use a fork to make a pattern in the cauliflower mixture. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Broil for 5 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Notes: If you have a steamer basket, you can place it directly over the boiling potatoes and use that to steam the cauliflower. Or, put the cauliflower in a bowl with 1/4 cup water, cover with a plate, and microwave for 15 minutes (stirring halfway through). For the pie crust, I recommend making a dough that doesn’t involve any sugar (I suggest making this recipe–just cut it in half because you only need a bottom crust). Also, if you’re like me and need a tutorial on pre-baking a pie crust, check out the instructions in this recipe.
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