Shepherd's Pie

Piping hot casseroles are just about where I am just inside the start of a New Year. The weather is generally cold and dreary and the holidays - which seemed ever present since the day after Halloween (or even before!) - have disappeared overnight. It's easy to hear and feel the rush of air fall out of things as winter, in its cold lonely way, grabs hold. And that's why we have casseroles.

One of my favorites is Shepherd's Pie. A two-layered casserole, a rich filling of ground meat, vegetables, and a tomato-filled sauce gets a blanket of creamy mashed potatoes. But I've always found the plain white of mashed potatoes to be nearly an affront after months of glitter, ribbon, and lights. So I like to combine good mashing potatoes (like Russets) with sweet potatoes and make mashing super simple by using my Instant Pot to save time and remove the guesswork.

A simple salad, warm dinner rolls, or the like is all that's needed to round out this comfort food meal. I like making a big batch like this so there are leftovers to enjoy for lunch later in the week. After all, winter's only just begun!

Shepherd's Pie

For the topping:
  • 2.5 pounds potatoes (I used a combination of Russet and sweet potatoes)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Salt and black pepper
For the filling:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups stock (choose beef, vegetable, chicken, or turkey stock)
  • 1 cup chunky tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 sprigs each fresh rosemary and thyme (or whatever herbs you love)
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with a bit of cold water
  • Salt and black pepper

Peel and cut the potatoes into small pieces. Place them in the Instant Pot with 1 cup water. Seal the pot and set manually to cook at high pressure for 7 minutes. When the cooking time has elapsed, allow the pot to naturally release (rest) for 10 minutes before manually releasing any remaining pressure. Pour any remaining water out of the pot, add the butter and heavy cream, and stir vigorously to mash the potatoes and combine the ingredients. Add the salt and pepper to suit your tastes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook until browned, crumbling it with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Transfer the cooked beef to a separate plate and set aside, reserving any grease in the sauté pan.

Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic; sauté for 5-7 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Immediately stir in the stock, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, herb sprigs and frozen peas until combined. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a simmer. Mix the cornstarch with the cold water and add the mixture to the pan. Then reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a low simmer, and continue cooking for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. Stir in the cooked meat. Taste and season the mixture with salt and pepper as needed.

Transfer the filling mixture to a large casserole or baking dish and spread it out in an even layer. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top and carefully spread them out in an even layer as well. You can score the top of the potatoes using a fork.

Bake the casserole uncovered at 400°F for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are lightly golden and the filling has started to bubble up around the edges. Serve warm.

  • Yields: 8-10 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes