Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie
Cottage Pie

This recipe comes out of a birthday request. In my family, tradition was that on your birthday, you pick what we have for dinner. This weekend was a birthday, and the request was a cottage pie. I’ve never made cottage pie, so I did a bit of searching.

So, here in New England, a meat pie topped with potatoes is called Shepherd’s Pie no matter what type of meat goes into it. As far as I learned, Shepherd’s Pie is lamb and gravy topped with mashed potatoes and baked. You know, shepherds? Sheep? Cottage Pie is the same basic idea but using beef as the meat. The internet has a variety of ideas about what cottage pie should be, from a basic lamb-based shepherd’s pie to a tomato sauced ground beef topped with potatoes and cheese. The former is poorly named, and the latter just sounds like casserole to me.

What I wanted for this was a ground beef, gravy, and vegetable pie topped with lovely browned mashed potatoes. Anything topped with potatoes is bound to be good, right? To add a bit of extra flavor, browned the onions quite well, and used mushrooms, arrowroot starch, and balsamic vinegar in the gravy. For veg, I’ve added corn, carrots, and celery. I think this recipe is pretty versatile — change up the veg for what you think you’ll like best, and make it your way — just let us know how it turned out.

Cottage Pie is served, with garnish
Cottage Pie is served, with garnish

Cottage Pie

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  •  salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil or reserved beef fat
  • 3/4 – 1 cup medium onion, sliced thinly
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 cup carrots, finely chopped (about 3)
  • I cup celery, finely chopped (about 3 outer stalks)
  • 1 cup corn, frozen (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons fat of your choice*
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup baby bella mushrooms, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons arrowroot starch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar (check to be sure this is “safe”)
  • 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Earth Balance or other margarine or fat
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy milk of your choosing, heated to at least room temp, if not a little warmer
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. If you have a skillet that you can use a whisk in (i.e. not non-stick), use it. Brown ground beef, breaking it up. Add salt and pepper to the cooking beef, adjusted to your taste. Remove beef, leaving any fat in the pan — I used a lean beef, so there was almost none, but if there is some, you can either use it to cook the onions or to make the gravy. If you want it for gravy, set it aside. Put the beef in a greased casserole that will hold all your ingredients.

In the remaining drippings or in 2 T of olive oil, add the onion and brown to the point of caramelization. This takes some time! Probably close to 40 minutes. Be patient, stir occasionally, and know that this pays off in flavor. When the onion is almost done, add the carrots, stir and let cook a few minutes. Then add the celery, do the same, and finally, add the corn and just let it thaw. Add the cooked veg  to the beef, and stir it up.

In the pot or pan you’ve been using, add the reserved grease OR 2 tablespoons of fat — margarine, oil, whatever — and heat. If you’re using the mushrooms, add them to the hot fat.Whisk in the arrowroot starch and cook this paste for a few minutes, and then gradually add 1 cup of the beef broth or stock, whisking continually. When you have a slightly liquid-y gravy, add the balsamic and cook until the vinegar smell dissipates. Add thyme, and cook a few more minutes, adding a little more beef stock if you need to thin the gravy. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed. Pour the gravy over your meat and veg, stir and set aside.

Make potatoes! Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft when pierced with a fork. Drain and mash with your margarine and non-dairy milk, adding the non-dairy milk gradually. You want a consistency that you can pipe, if you’re going to do that, so aim that direction while mashing. Taste, add salt and pepper if needed.

If you are piping the potatoes, let the cool to just above room temperature, and then load your piping bag and make pretty designs on top of your casserole. Bake 25 minutes if you’ve just finished making everything, 30-40 minutes if you refrigerated the casserole, at 350ºF.

Top with more of the optional chopped parsley, because it’s pretty, and serve.

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