This recipe is an adaptation of my mother's. She always makes it with turkey instead of beef, and adds loads of flavor from a couple of secret ingredients (which, of course, will not be secret for long). The base is almost like a bolognese with an extra hit of seasoning that you don't quite expect. The topping is glorious mashed potatoes with the skins left on, and the finishing touch is just a delicate sprinkling of cheese to add that something special.
The primary secret ingredient in this shepherds pie is somewhat controversial. It's Marmite. If you're not familiar with Marmite, it is a much-loved and yet much-hated ingredient for the children of British families. I happen to fall in the love camp, but if you fall into the less-enlightened (in my opinion) hate camp, or you simply don't want to try it, you can use a bit of Worcestershire sauce, or just increase the tomato paste. Marmite is a vegetarian yeast-based spread, but it lends a beefiness to this shepherds pie that would definitely be missed if you skip it. You can also use Vegemite, which is the Australian equivalent.
Shepherds pie, in my family anyway, is the ultimate comfort food. And it only seems to get better the next day, so definitely make enough to have leftovers.
1 lb. baby Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and halved
2/3 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 lb. ground white meat turkey
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons Marmite or Vegemite
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, mostly drained
2 tablespoons grated mozzarella or white cheddar
1. Place the potatoes in a pot and fill with cold water to about one inch above the potatoes. Salt it. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork. Drain, return to the pot, and add the milk and butter. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Salt to taste.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and red pepper flakes.
3. Add the turkey to the pot and break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Cook, stirring often, until the turkey is no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and Marmite and stir to distribute fairly evenly. Add the diced tomatoes and a little bit of their juices and stir everything together. Let cook about 5 more minutes to evaporate some of the moisture.
4. Preheat the oven to 375. Transfer the turkey mixture to a 8 x 8 baking dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Smooth them out to create an even layer. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are starting to get crusty and golden on top. Serve hot.