Nov 1-2 Shepherds Pie Lightened Up

Nov 1     $10 pizza night at Il Fornello
Nov 2     Shepherd's Pie

My father in law called me about making shepherd's pie on the weekend and I had to talk him through it and doing this got me thinking about shepherd's pie. I never make it myself and once a year Shack makes a terrible version of it that includes a layer of canned cream corn between the meat and the potatoes that I refuse to eat and we mutually agree to not discuss. Clearly, it's not high on my list of things I am dying to cook BUT The Kid really likes it (they serve it at school) so I started to think of ways to make it a dish that I could be happy with. I would love to use lamb but Shack hates lamb so I thought I could grind up some chicken thighs, added some sweet potato to the mashed potato layer to make it prettier and more nutritious and went from there. The one mistake I made was to buy chicken breasts instead of thighs because I would have liked a bit of fat and the richness of the darker meat and next time I will use thighs. Even with the far too lean breast meat, the flavour is really nice but the texture of the chicken is not quite right. I think that the lack of fat caused the meat mixture to not blend together the way it would with a fattier meat so that the little chunks of chicken remain very separate and don't melt into the other ingredients the way ground beef would.

Then, I was thinking about how the newly healthy Rocco Dispirito is always using cornstarch to thicken his sauces without resorting to creams and fats so I thought I would give that a try since the chicken was too lean and just to make it really crazy, I subbed in a third of the mashed potato/yam with cooked, pureed cauliflower. I already like to use buttermilk because I like the tangy flavour but it's also 2% butter fat so without even trying it looks like I am making a diet dish or something. I am living on the edge people.

I have to tell you that the  combo of potato/yam/cauliflower is pretty darned good and I would eat that on it's own in place of mashed potatoes any day. I am not sure I am buying that pureed cauliflower on it's own tastes JUST liked mashed potatoes, but when you mix it in there with some potato it's pretty tasty.

So, the shepherd's pie is a work in progress but for my first attempt, I am pretty pleased with myself and I would happily eat this on a regular basis. Both guys ate seconds and there was only a tiny bit left in the end but I would really, really, really like to make it with some lamb someday if I can get my picky 40 year old to try it.

Shepherd's Pie 
makes about 6 servings

1 tbls olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 lb ground chicken ( I ground my own but you can buy it pre ground)
1 tbls tomato paste
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tbls cornstarch
fresh thyme ( a small sprig of fresh or about 2 tsp or to taste of dried)
small handful fresh italian parsley, chopped
2 lbs combined potato/sweet potato/cauliflower
2 tbls butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup buttermilk (depends on how thick you want them)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Put the potato and the sweet potato in a pot of salted water, bring to a boil and cook until soft. Drain and put it back in the same pot. At the same time I put my chopped up cauliflower in another pot of salted water and cooked it separately so that I could puree it before adding it to the potato/sweet potato. You can put the cooked, drained cauliflower in a food processor, a blender, use an immersion blender or you trusty bullet, like I did. Add that pureed cauliflower to the pot that contains the drained potato/sweet potato, mash in the butter and then start pouring in the buttermilk while you continue to mash until you get the texture you like. Taste, salt and pepper, taste and adjust until it's right. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a non stick sauté pan over med heat and sauté the onion and garlic for about five minutes until it softens. Add the ground meat and continue to cook until the pink is gone. Add a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper and then add the carrot and celery and continue to cook for another five or six minutes. Throw in the zucchini and cook, stirring a couple of times for another five minutes. Push all of that to one side of the pan and add in the tomato paste and cook that for a minute on it's own to brown it (it's something that many of the italian chefs I like do so I do it too) before adding 1 cup of stock, the thyme and parsley. Cover, turn the heat to medium low and let it cook for about ten minutes. Remove the cover, turn the heat up to medium high. Stir the cornstarch into the 1/2 cup of stock you have left and add that to your chicken and vegetables and let it come up to a simmer and let that cook for a couple of minutes and then remove it from the heat.

the meat/vegetable mixture before topping with mashed potatoes

topped with a layer of mashed potatoes ready to go into the oven

You can do one of two things now. You can transfer your meat mixture into a baking dish or casserole or individual baking dishes OR if you used an oven proof sauté pan you can bake it right in there. I used three smaller casserole dishes because I knew we wouldn't eat it all and I wanted to freeze one.
Fill the dish up 3/4 of the way with the chicken and then top that with a nice, thick layer of the mashed potatoes , pop them in the oven and bake until the top is golden brown or for about 30 to 35 minutes.


  1. What a cute way to serve shepherds pie! I always make it in a big casserole dish but little ramekins would be perfect! Thanks for the inspiration and fabulous recipe! :)


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