Okay, so maybe it isn't a real English Pub Shepherd's Pie if it doesn't have carbs, but it nearly is...authentic English/Australian comfort food without the guilt. Or that's what David says anyway.
Shepherd's Pie is David's Mac and Cheese. Comforting, familiar, not something his folks cooked at home, but the thing you'd buy out at a shop when you were ravenously hungry. David says most of the time he'd buy a meat pie, because you could travel with it in your hand while you eat, but the shepherd's pie was a step up, a meat pie on steroids, fancier, more of a good thing, something to sit down for.
I was looking for something Anglo-Australian to cook, sort of a bridge between the sand and the surf and the sun still lingering in our heads and our life here in New York. Granted, it was hard to get Australia out of our heads, but we came back to Spring and warmer weather, and by the time we got up to the country this weekend, we seemed nearly like ourselves again.
There was the first bare feet of the year, making their way tentatively outside.
And tree climbing. Scary tree climbing that made Mommy freak out a little inside her head.
There was also naked cooking.
See? Nearly ourselves again...
The bottom of this pie is the real English deal. Lamb, not ground beef or veal or a combination. And it's a very fine mince. That's the real key to making great shepherd's pie, fine mincing. Or at least this is what the English say. You can see in this photo that all the veg and meat are chopped very fine. Gordon Ramsey made a big deal out of saying this on one of his cooking videos and when I said so to David he was all like, "Well, yeah, that's just obvious".
See how small everything is?
So, no big gloppy vegetables or a bunch of peas poured on top of the meat. It should feel like comfort when your eating it, but it shouldn't look country style with rough cut veggies. You should get a taste of everything in every bite. You can either mince the veg by hand or give them a quick whirl in the food processor. It works as well with fresh as it does frozen veg, so you can use a veg mix and still get the same results.
Now, for the thing that makes this pie carb free. Cauliflower. I got the idea from the very talented, Aimee at Under The Highchair and Simple Bites. She did her own version of a shepherd's pie and used cauliflower puree as the topping. I knew this would make my no-carb-eating-husband happy, so I did my own take.
Okay, now be prepared. Cauliflower is never going to taste as good as creamy, buttery spuds piled high on top of the meat, but if you are trying to avoid carbs, this is damn good substitute.
The trick is to treat the cauliflower like your potatoes. Mash them up with a generous amount of butter, cream, salt, pepper, and Parmesan. Maybe throw in a handful of chives or thyme, if you are so inclined. They'll taste rich and flavorful. They will not have the heft of potatoes and you won't fool anyone over 4, but they still taste great. And no carb guilt, which means you can have seconds and thirds.
Oh and one other hint. Pop it under the broiler for a few minutes to really brown the parmesan. It will be crunchy on top, soft underneath.
Here's the recipe. Enjoy!
No Guilt, No Carb, English Pub Shepherd's Pie
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
1 pound ground lamb
1 medium onion, finely grated
1 large carrot, finely grated
1/2 cup of peas, finely minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato puree, or sauce, if you have it
Handful of thyme sprigs, leaves picked
1 sprig of rosemary, needles chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup chicken stock or water (or as needed)
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 stick of butter
3/4 cup of cream (more or less)
Chives, chopped, (if you want for the cauliflower)
Parmesan, for grating
A handful of bread crumbs
A bit of finely chopped parsley, chives, or thyme for garnish on top.
Preheat the oven to 375.
Heat oil in a large pan, preferable cast iron, if you have it, until hot. Add garlic, and let it get hot and aromatic in the oil for about a minute.
Season the meat with salt and pepper and saute in the oil, medium heat, for a couple minutes. Add the onions, carrot, peas into the meat. Add Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree, herbs, and cook another couple minutes. Don't let it sit too long without a stir.
Pour in the red wine and let the liquid reduce. Add the stock, or water if you don't have stock, bring the whole thing to a boil and let it simmer until the sauce thickens up a bit.
Meanwhile, cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water until it is soft, about 6 minutes. Drain the water and put the florets in the food processor. Add salt, pepper, cream, a half a stick of butter and give it a whiz. Don't over-process because the cauliflower has to be stiff enough to sit on top of the potatoes. They should look like mash potatoes - only they'll be a bit grainier - and have a similar consistency. Add grated Parmesan to the cauliflower. You can add herbs at this point. Check for seasoning and taste.
Spoon the lamb into the bottom of a large ovenproof dish or clay baking pot. Lay the cauliflower mixture over the top. Be generous. Pile it high. Use it all. Grate some extra Parmesan over the top and a small handful of bread crumbs. This will help the pie get a lovely brown, crust on top.
Make Ahead: You can do all these steps in advance and keep the covered pie in the fridge for up to 10 hours before baking.
Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes, until bubbling and then finish it under the broiler for 5 minutes until the top gets golden brown.
Dust with a little finely chopped herb, like parsley. Serve immediately. The pie is even better the next day, if there's any left.