When the weather turns unseasonably cool, or if the evening feels chilly after a warm day, this Easy Shepherd’s Pie is my answer to “what’s for dinner?” Actually, the person asking that question may be me, but no matter.
Why shepherd’s pie? Because it’s a simple way to use and enjoy leftovers. Hearty but not too dense, it satisfies as only comfort food can. The ingredients are simple – whatever vegetables (and usually meat) I have around. I never know what going into the mix until I get to chopping and cooking.
When it comes to comfort food, many people harken back to their childhood. In my case, I harken back to someone else’s childhood. Growing up I didn’t eat mashed potatoes. Or if I did, my mom made them from a box of dried flakes in the amount needed for a specific meal. We certainly never had leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge, begging to be eaten or used in another dish.
Fast forward to my first years married to a guy who is as proud of his Irish ancestry as could be. I learned that mashed potatoes never come from a box and that one always makes a huge pile of them. Leftover mashed potatoes are not a problem or wasted food; they are the beginning of this Easy Shepherd’s Pie.
When the weather is chilly or even “changeable” as the Irish weather forecasters seem to call most days there, shepherd’s pie is a good choice. And honestly, even in warm weather I enjoy shepherd’s pie. I guess that means I love a “throw it all together and eat” meal no matter what time of year.
Shepherd’s pie is basically chopped meat (or meat substitute) and small pieces of vegetables, mixed with an herb, tomato, and a seasoned broth, topped with mashed potatoes and baked.
There are no fancy ingredients or techniques and leftover veggies work fine as long as you cut them up into small pieces. You can make individual pies in ramekins or oven-proof bowls. This larger pie works well in a deep dish pie plate or a casserole dish. It’s a great meal to freeze; easy to defrost and warm up when you don’t have the energy to fuss.
I love to make the filling colorful. That’s easy if you have lots of vegetables of different colors. The meat or plant-based alternative is a nice touch, but I suppose you could leave it out as long as you have lots of variety in the vegetables and herbs to add flavor.
Tips for Making Easy Shepherd’s Pie
- Make it your own way. The ground meat is traditionally lamb. But I typically use ground beef. You could use a combination, or go with another ground meat. (I’ve never tried ground chicken or turkey, but I’m not offended by the prospect of either in Shepherd’s Pie.) A combination of beef and pork works well. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, how about a plant-based alternative? Or leave out the meat/plant-based alternative entirely and go with just vegetables.
- Use what you have. I’ve described the bulk of the vegetables as “crunchy” and provided examples of what you might use. Don’t hesitate to use a different vegetable if it appeals to you and you have it or have easy access to it. Colorful and crunchy is the name of the game.
- The template. I am an omnivore so my Shepherd’s Pie has meat, dairy and vegetables in it. And for seasoning, I use beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. That’s traditional. But you can go as far afield from tradition as you need or want to and still call it Shepherd’s Pie. Eliminate meat or dairy or both. The template is vegetables and broth underneath, with or without meat/plant-based substitute, and with mashed potatoes on top.
Easy Shepherd’s Pie
This adaptable version of the traditional meat, potatoes, and vegetable dish is perfect for using up leftovers.
- 1 & 1/2 – 1 & 3/4 pounds chopped meat (beef, lamb, pork, or some combination) or a plant-based alternative. 680-794 g See note about various meats.
- 2 tablespoons oil (e.g. olive, canola, etc)
- 4 cups crunchy vegetables diced into small pieces About 20 oz/567 g. Examples of crunchy vegetables – carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers, broccoli, parsnips. Cut into pea-size pieces.
- 1/3 cup chopped and seeded tomatoes or halved grape or cherry tomatoes 2 oz/60 g. Around 7 or 8 grape tomatoes
- 1/3 cup flat leaf parsley 1/2 oz/15 g. See below for difference between curly and flat leaf parsley.
- 1/3 cup peas, fresh or frozen 2 oz/55 g
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary or about 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme crumbled or about 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped
- 1 & 1/4-1 & 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided Use about 1 teaspoon for the vegetables and meat, leaving 1/4-1/2 teaspoon for the mashed potatoes
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1/2 oz/16 g
- 1 cup beef or vegetable broth 8 oz/237 ml
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (or vegetarian/vegan alternative that does not contain anchovies) See note for vegetarian/vegan alternatives
- 1 & 1/2 pounds potatoes, washed and cut into quarters (or smaller if potatoes are large) 680 g. Use whatever type you prefer for mashed potatoes. In this batch I used Yukon gold. See note about skins.
- 2-3 tablespoons sour cream or mayonnaise or vegan alternative 1-1 & 1/2 oz/30-45 g
- paprika Optional. for sprinkling on top of casserole. Use your choice of sweet, hot, or smoked.
- 1-2 tablespoons butter or alternative for browning the mashed potatoes
Pre-heat the oven to 400° F/204° C
Making the Filling
Cut the crunchy vegetables. Which ones you use doesn’t matter as long as they offer a nice array of colors, and are all cut into roughly the size of peas. If you begin to obsess over the size of the pieces, remember that everything gets mixed together except for the potatoes on top. Set them aside in a bowl.
Chop the tomatoes and parsley. Set them aside with the peas.
If using chopped meat/plant-based alternative, cook the meat/alternative until it is no longer red or pink. If there is fat (from meat), drain it off by taking the meat out of the pan with a slotted spoon. Put any drained fat in the freezer in a container for later disposal (Usually I wash and reuse an aluminum can from beans or tomato paste for this purpose, keeping the can in the freezer and adding fat until it is full, when I throw it out. Do not put fat down the sink!!) Set the meat aside in a bowl.
Heat the pan that the meat/plant-based alternative was cooked in and add the oil. When it is hot but not smoking, add the crunchy vegetables and cook them for 5-8 minutes or so. They should remain crisp, but taste cooked.
Add the cooked chopped meat/plant-based alternative back in, add the chopped tomatoes, parsley, peas, herbs, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook the mixture for 2-3 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 2-3 more minutes, stirring to make sure the flour coats the filling ingredients.
Slowly add the broth and Worcestershire sauce/alternative, bring to a boil and simmer the mixture for 5-10 minutes. I had frozen homemade beef broth but boxed or canned works fine. (If you buy broth, consider a low sodium version and if necessary, lessen the amount of salt you add to the vegetables/meat or plant-based alternative mixture.)
The Mashed Potato Topping
You can make this topping ahead of time, while you are cooking the filling, or afterwards. I often have leftover mashed potatoes and so don't need to make them "fresh," but when I don't have any already made, I do this step while I'm cooking the filling, watching the timing on the potatoes so they don't overcook.
Put the potato pieces into a pot with several inches of cold water. Cover and bring the water to a rolling boil and turn the heat down slightly. Continue cooking for about 8-10 minutes until the potato chunks are soft enough for a fork to go through them easily.
Drain most, but not all of the water out of the potatoes – leaving perhaps ⅓ – ½ cup of water in the pot. Add sour cream or mayonnaise,salt and pepper to taste, and mash them. Set the potatoes aside. (I use a handheld electric mixer, but an old-fashioned potato masher or even a mallet will work.) Set the mashed potatoes aside.
Putting the Shepherd's Pie together
Place the filling mixture in the baking dish, top with mashed potatoes (pushing potatoes to the edge of the casserole to seal in the meat and vegetables.) If you like crunchy peaks, run a fork over the top or make indentations before topping the potatoes with dots of butter or alternative and sprinkle paprika over the top.
Bake for 20-30 minutes with a sheet pan underneath the casserole to catch any drippings. Let the shepherd’s pie sit for 5 minutes before cutting it in slices or serving individual ramekins. When served, don't expect the portions to be "clean" slices. Part of the charm of this dish is that it looks rustic.
As mentioned in the post, traditionally the meat in shepherd’s pie is lamb. I use whatever I have around. Mixing several types of meat is fine. If my meat is chopped beef, I might add crumbled bacon or finely diced pancetta to provide a bit of extra pizazz.
I call for flat leaf parsley in this recipe, because I much prefer it to curly parsley. But go with what you have or your own preference. Here are photos of my parsley and fresh rosemary.
Instead of Worcestershire sauce, which contains anchovies, consider an alternative if you make this vegetarian or vegan.
I leave the skins on my potatoes. You’re welcome to peel them if you prefer.