Shepherd’s pie with kale

November 6, 2012 § 30 Comments

Hey! So, it turns out there’s an election or something going on in the States today.  Who knew, eh?!  (Joke.)  Some part of me feels like I should talk about it, as it’s a weighty issue, hot discussion, trending topic, etc, etc, etc.  I mean, I sure know what I believe.  But, I can’t really try to force my beliefs on anyone else.  Actually, that’s false, I totally could try to force my beliefs on you!

But, not to worry, I won’t!

Instead I’m going to preoccupy myself thinking and talking about a creek.

There’s a little creek within spitting distance of the house where I grew up.  I think I may have actually mentioned it before, though I can’t keep track of these things.

It’s a wonderful creek.

There’s nothing jaw-dropping or awe inspiring about it.  It doesn’t have a magnificent or majestic sort of beauty about it.  But it does have the most miraculously quiet, serene beauty to it.  The angles of the rockbeds, the arc of the branches, the ripples of the water, to me they are lyrical in an other-wordly and yet entirely this-worldly sort of way.  It’s one of my favorite places on this earth, and I think one of the most beautiful as well.

I grew up going for walks there all the time.  My mother would take us walking there when we were little for teddy bear picnics and to look for minnows.  I went walking with friends there, making believe we were explorers in a lost forest.  The creek was on the way to and from our high school, so we would hike up and down it in a hurry to get to classes and sports practice.  I walked there with my boyfriends, feeling terribly romantic.  I walked there whenever I was having boy troubles, alone with my thoughts  and terrible indecisiveness.  I, of course, took Joel there on his earliest visits to Duluth, to show him what a special place it is.

The creek has always been there, and it always somehow, even when it seems impossible, fills me with a sense of peace.

Now after our move, the creek, while not spitting distance, is again within walking distance of where we live.  Yesterday afternoon I started to feel down about the world and unable to concentrate, so I took the dog there for a walk.  The paths alongside the creek are torn up, washed out, sunken in from the terrible flood here this summer (floods, floods, floods.  yikes.).  In a way it looks like a disaster site, yet the creek itself, while more rutted than before, still follows the same curve, still has the same personality.  It has pulled itself back together in a remarkable way.

I feel so lucky to have it in my life, and walking by it, I did feel at peace.

I think I may need to go walk there again today, (In the freezing drizzle.  Lovely.) given I’m having even more trouble concentrating than ever.

Anyhow, along those lines I thought I would share some serious comfort food.  Does it get cozier, more comforting or sense of well-being inducing than a casserole, toasty from the oven?  Answer: no, it doesn’t (though I suppose stew can give casserole a run for its money, as can braised meat, but anyway, that’s not the point, the point is comfort).

This is a classic shepherd’s pie, filled with juicy ground lamb, thick tomato-y, wine-y sauce, and lots of sweet little peas to balance the savory.  However, I decided to veer off just the tiniest bit from tradition, and instead of topping the shepherd’s pie with plain mashed potatoes, I took a page from the book of another classic British Isles comfort food – colcannon – and made a mixture of buttery mashed potatoes and tender sauteed kale.  The greens add welcome texture and leafiness to the starchy potatoes and perfectly round this out as a one-pot meal.  (If you can call it a one-pot meal given it takes a couple pots to cook it in.  Just one pot to eat it out of though!)

And now, I’m off to take a walk!

Shepherd’s Pie with Kale (serves about 6)

  • 6 Tbs. butter, divided
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • a generous 1 lb. of ground lamb (beef will also work)
  • 1/2 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 1/2 cup red wine (or more broth)
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. each chopped rosemary and thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups peas (frozen or fresh)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/3 cup cream (or milk)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche (or another splash of cream)
  • about 3 cups finely chopped kale
  1. Preheat your oven to 375F. In a large saute pan, heat 1 Tbs. butter over medium high heat.  Once the butter is foaming, add the onion, carrot, and lamb and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat into small bits, until the meat is well browned and the onion is softened (about 10 minutes).
  2. Drain off as much of the fat as you can, then stir in the rosemary, thyme, tomato paste, broth, and wine and stir well.  Taste and add salt to taste.  Cook at a simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes, then stir in the peas and cook for another minute.  Remove from the heat.
  3. While the lamb is cooking, put the potato chunks in a pot with just enough water to cover them.  Bring them to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cook, covered, until the potatoes are quite tender, 20-25 minutes.  Drain the potatoes into a colander.
  4. Return the empty potato pot to the stove and add a Tbs. of butter.  Melt the butter over medium-high heat, then stir in the kale and a pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring, until the kale is all wilted, 3-5 minutes.  Remove from the heat, add the cream, the remaining butter, and the potatoes.  Mash the potatoes until they are creamy and well mixed with the kale.  Mash in the sour cream and more salt to taste.
  5. Put the lamb mixture into a large baking dish, then spread the potato-kale mixture over the top.  Put the shepherd’s pie into the oven and bake until the top is starting to turn golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Then, take out of the oven and serve.

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