It’s that stodge-craving time of year, and very few things fit the bill better than a handsome cottage pie. This one has an intense and rich filling, and it’s blanketed with a generous layer of lovely, fattening mash. (In less apocalyptic weather, I’d use a bit less topping, but right at the moment I am mindfully using mashed potato as internal insulation from the biting cold.)
I’ve used veal mince here, from non-crated calves. It has a lighter flavour than beef, and it’s less fatty, but you can substitute beef mince if you prefer it. The root vegetables add sweetness and earthy depth – this is a wonderfully wintery pie. To serve four, you’ll need:
450g veal mince
1 large onion
1 large carrot
1 large parsnip
1 tablespoon smoked paprika (use unsmoked paprika if you can’t find any)
2 bay leaves
1 thyme leaves, stripped from stalks
2 tablespoons tomato purée
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
200ml good beef stock
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
800g floury potatoes (I used King Edwards)
150ml whole milk
1 large knob butter
Generous grating of nutmeg
Chop the onion, carrot and parsnip into small dice. Take a large, heavy-based pan, and sweat them over a low heat in the olive oil until soft; the onions should be starting to take on some colour. Add the paprika, bay and thyme, and keep cooking, stirring all the time, for two minutes. Tip the meat into the pan and turn the heat up to medium. Stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan all the time, cook until the meat is browning nicely.
Pour the vermouth into the pan and let it bubble up. Add the Worcestershire sauce and tomato puree, then stir in the stock and a large pinch of salt (use all the fingers of your hand to pinch, not just finger and thumb). Bring the mixture up to a simmer and turn the heat down low again. Continue to simmer with the lid on for an hour, then remove the lid and continue to simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
At this point, you can put the pie filling in the fridge overnight if you have time. As with so many casseroled and simmered dishes, the flavour improves if allowed to settle and develop for 24 hours.
When you are ready to make up the pie, peel the potatoes and cook them as you usually would for mash. When mashing, add the butter, the milk and the nutmeg with a generous amount of salt. Put the filling in a pie dish and spread the mash on top. I like it spread in a sort of thatched roof arrangement, which is pure posing, but does look good. Make sure you mark your topping with a fork – this will ensure you get some nice crispy bits when the pie is cooked.
Bake at 180°C (350°F) for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top.