I’ve always been a fan of shepherds pie and cottage pie. The distinction between the two, by the way, is that shepherds pie is made with lamb, and cottage pie with any other type of meat. Meaty, rich, with a thick gravy and a potato crust, they are grain free, hearty and filling. In the winter time, they rival stews, or roast meat with vegetables. They are all-in-one, ultimate comfort food. I have always loved casseroles, but shepherd’s pie is transcendent of one-layer casseroles, with a thick crust of soft, creamy mashers. This recipe is unique because the potato topping contains a fresh herb/garlic/olive oil puree and the filling doesn’t contain as many vegetables as the English or Irish versions I’ve used in the past (this one is French).
This particular recipe is divine. I found it in a book about pie, and I love pies of all shapes and sizes, savory ones like this not withholding. It is savory, flavorful and satisfying. I neglected to buy or make artisan bread to accompany this dish, and though it doesn’t need it, I strongly believe that bread is the one thing that can improve every meal.
French Beef and Herbed Potato Pie
Special equipment: a large shallow baking dish or extra large shallow pie pan
Total cook and prep time: about 3 hours
For the filling:
2 Tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, 1/4″ dice
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 28 oz. can diced or whole unsalted tomatoes (I used Trader Joe’s unsalted whole plum tomatoes, but I had to chop them)
1 cup beef stock or broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt and black pepper, to taste
For the topping:
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, cut in half and then cut in quarters, for boiling
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch of basil, leaves only
1 bunch parsley, leaves only
1 cup whole milk
To make the filling:
Place the olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Once heated, add the onion, stir frequently for three to four minutes. Season with salt and pepper. When the onions are beginning to become translucent, add the garlic and the mushrooms.Season again with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir frequently for about three more minutes. Add the beef and the tomatoes, stir until the beef is nearly cooked. Turn the heat to low, add the broth and the wine. Add more salt and pepper as needed, and simmer gently for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste to see and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
To make the topping:
While the meat is simmering,fill a large pot with cold water. Salt the water and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and boil for 10-12 minutes, testing for doneness by piercing with a fork. While the potatoes are boiling, puree the herbs and garlic with the rest of the olive oil in a blender or robot coupe/food processor. When the fork slides in easily but the potato does not split in half, the potatoes are done. Drain them into the sink and mash with a handheld mixer or in a standing mixer on speed 1 or 2, very gradually, turning off and scraping the sides as needed. If you over-mix the potatoes at this point, they will become gummy, so mix just until smooth. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until steaming. Add the herb puree to the potatoes and stir in the mixer just until combined. Add the milk in a gradual stream with the mixer on speed 1. Scrape down the sides, season with 2 teaspoons of salt, scrape again and mix for about 20 seconds until fluffy.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Pour the filling into the casserole dish. Spread with a spoon to make an even layer. There may be a moderate amount of liquid, add it all. Using a spoon, gently place mounds of potatoes over the top. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the potatoes into an even layer and create a scalloped pattern on the top. Bake for about 35 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes, serve hot. (With bread.)