Shepherd's pie is one of those recipes that has stood the test of time. I make it for my children, just as my mother made it for me, and I'm pretty sure her mother made it for her as well. There is nothing fancy or trendy or impressive about it, but it is comfort food par excellence. In my opinion, the smell of it cooking works at the same level as a hug or a call from an old friend. A lovely reassurance that regardless of how lousy your week has been, or how bad the Easter weather is or how disappointing your holiday was, some things remain right in the world.
Shepherd's pie is equally popular with the children and the adults in our family. Only my husband, scarred from years of boarding house shepherd's pie with powdered mash on top, took a while to come around to eating it again, but even he enjoys it now too. I like to make shepherd's pie as a one dish meal, so our vegetables for the night are incorporated into the mix. This means that every time I make this recipe, it changes slightly depending on what I have on hand that I want to add. Corn, carrot and peas all work well - and only the carrot needs any pre-cooking (unless you like yours very underdone).
A Large Shepherd's Pie
2 tbls olive oil
1 kg mince (I generally use beef, but feel free to use whatever you prefer)
1 onion, diced
150g bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup BBQ sauce (you could substitute tomato sauce)
1 tbl tomato paste
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup diced carrots
milk and butter for the mash
Preheat oven to 180C. Heat oil in a large pan, then add onion and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add bacon and continue to cook until the bacon starts to render its fat (another couple of minutes). Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add mince and continue to cook until it is browned. Stir in BBQ sauce and tomato paste, and season with salt and pepper. Taste the mixture, and add more sauce or tomato paste if required. Stir in vegetables and warm them through, then tip meat mixture into a large baking dish.
Meanwhile, boil potatoes until they are tender, then mash with milk and butter according to your taste. (I usually use 1/4 - 1/2 cup milk and 1-2 tbls of butter). Spread the mashed potato over the mince mixture. Swirl the tines of a fork through the mash to create a pretty textured top, then put into the oven for 1/2 hour. If top is not golden, put the pie under the grill for a minute to brown - do NOT walk away while you are doing this or you risk burnt pie - the potato toasts very quickly.