I know it is one of my favourites! In fact, Cottage Pie and Shepherd's Pie have taken on legendary status in this household, as they have been proven to be of medicinal benefit when taken in extremis.
Many times when I have been really quite poorly, a good dollop or two of a Shepherd's Pie has restored me back to health. On occasion, it has made the difference between living and dying (or so it seems).
There are as many recipes for Cottage Pie as there are pebbles on the beach. Everybody either has one, or knows someone who has one. For me, apart from the minced beef and the mashed potato, there are two essential ingredients - baked beans and Worcestershire Sauce. I also like my Cottage Pie to be a fairly dry mix to which we add gravy if necessary. This goes down well with Son & heir, as he's not overly keen on gravy. It sullies the perfection of each separate constituent on his plate, you see.
I have many lovely memories involving Cottage and Shepherd's pie, but one which I must recount to you - because I'm sure you'll find it amusing (fingers crossed) is from some 15 or so years ago when I still had my horses.
In the stable yard where I kept them, my best friend at the time was a lady called Marilyn. We kept our horses in adjacent stables and would coincide as often as we could, mainly because we got on so well and just couldn't stop laughing at one another. The weekends were always the best, as we'd often spend all day together, riding our horses and just frittering away the time with doing "horsey stuff" and having a good old laugh.
I would often go to buy the horse feed first thing on a Saturday morning, spending an hour or so chatting and giggling with the girls at the shop, then pick up fish & chips for Marilyn and her daughter Tara and myself. I'd get back to the stables and we'd tuck in, before all going out for a ride.
One weekend, Marilyn's horse couldn't be ridden for one reason or another so Tara and I were riding in the indoor school, so as not to leave Marilyn out. It wasn't a horse feed weekend, so I hadn't bought supplies - but unknown to me, Marilyn had. Lunchtime arrived and out came this wicker picnic basket. Opening it with much ceremony, Marilyn took out three china plates, three sets of knives and forks - and the leftovers of a considerable Cottage Pie. We sat there, in the yard and on the suitcases in which we kept our horses' gear, eating cold Cottage Pie off of china plates with posh knives and forks. Brilliant.
26 July 2015 : I have made this Cottage Pie countless times in between writing the recipe and now, but I thought I would share a photograph of the latest incarnation with you. Just gorgeous.
COTTAGE PIE (serves 4)
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
500g low fat minced beef
1 large onion, chopped finely
2 sticks of celery, chopped finely
1 medium carrot, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
5 mushrooms, two chopped finely, three sliced
200g of baked beans from a tin
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 Knorr rich beef stockpot (or 1 low salt beef stock cube)
1 tsp Bovril
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
a splash or two of Worcestershire Sauce
half a tsp dried thyme
half a tsp paprika
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped finely
1 tbsp Bisto Best beef gravy granules
water, as necessary.
For the mash :
4-5 potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters (Maris Piper are excellent)
a knob of butter
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
100g or so of grated mature cheddar.
1. In a deep frying pan, heat the vegetable oil and add the minced beef. Cook on a high heat until all the mince is browned and the water has evaporated. Fry the beef until the bottom surface has caramelised three times and been turned each time. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and reserve. Keep as much of the leftover oil as is required to cook the vegetables - approximately 1 tablespoonful.
2. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot and chopped mushroom to the pan and fry on a medium heat until the vegetables are softened and the onion is transparent. Take care not to let the vegetables burn.
3. Once everything is cooking nicely, add the sliced mushrooms, baked beans, tomato puree, tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Bovril, wholegrain mustard, stock pot (or Oxo cube), thyme and paprika plus 300ml of water and mix well.
4. Allow to cook on a low heat for as long as it takes you to peel and boil the potatoes.
5. Once cooked, drain the potatoes and add the knob of butter, milk and season to taste. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Don't be tempted to make the mash too creamy, or it will disintegrate when it meets the gravy from the meat.
6. Add the parsley to the meat mixture together with the gravy granules and stir through. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
7. Place the meat mix into the bottom of a deep casserole dish, then place blobs of mashed potato on top. Using a fork, lightly join each blob until the meat is completely covered - but don't press it into the meat mixture - then sprinkle on the grated cheese.
8. Place into a pre-heated oven at around 180degC/340degF/Gas4, for 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and crispy.
Serve with vegetables of your choice and a little extra gravy.