It’s the week after Thanksgiving, and you’ve got leftover mashed potatoes.
Or maybe you don’t, but they’re worth making for this recipe because a warm bowl of saucy vegetables tucked under a mound of golden-peaked mashed potatoes is one of the best foods you will ever eat (second maybe to lasagna from Rome or Texan queso).
This recipe is not for the real-deal, ground beef Shepherd’s Pie that blew my mind the first time I ordered it at a dive-y Irish pub. It’s even more shocking- there’s no meat and it still boasts incredible flavor and undeniable comfort. I nixed the beef because I happened to be cooking for my vegetarian sister, but I was surprised at how delicious the finished product turned out. The thing with the greatest foods of all time (GFOAT) is that even if you make substitutions, they’re still pretty damn good (PDG).
I first found a recipe for Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie by Beth from Budget Bytes, an excellent food blog about frugal cooking. I wanted to cook everything in one skillet so I reduced the quantities of some items in her recipe but kept it as vegetable-heavy as possible. I also added corn because I had some leftover in my refrigerator, but that addition was so good that it’s worth picking up a can of corn for this recipe. You can use fresh if it’s in season, but I suspect you’ll be making this in the colder months.
I also added a couple hits of soy sauce because that’s what Nigella would do, and it’s my favorite culinary trick to amplify the umami of any dish. It’s particularly helpful for vegetarian meals- soy sauce can make a vegetable as addictive as a potato chip. And you won’t feel badly about eating the whole bag.
Another note on potatoes- make sure you use plenty of them. This recipe calls for about 3 cups to crown the top of the vegetable filling, but use as much as you see fit (and then some). The skillet should be difficult to lift by the time it’s ready for the oven.
To finish it off, you can add a couple dashes of hot sauce on each portion. I think the hint of spice brightens up the whole thing, but it’s not necessary.
I made this on the first big snow of the year, and the backdrop of white flurries against a black sky was the perfect accompaniment to this meal. It’s the kind of dinner to eat from a bowl while sitting on the couch, wearing a bathrobe and slipper-socks.
Mom and I ate this until we were too full to eat another bite. Then, as we cleaned up leftovers, I polished off a few more bites straight from the skillet. Just to make sure it was still good.
Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
A warm bowl of saucy vegetables tucked under a mound of golden-peaked mashed potatoes is one of the best foods you will ever eat.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- Kosher salt
- 1 tsp fresh thyme (½ tsp dried)
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 1-1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
- 1 cup canned corn, drained
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
- Hot sauce (optional, for serving)
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a 9-inch oven-proof skillet (such as cast iron). Sauté the onion and garlic over medium-low heat until the onions are soft and transparent and the garlic is fragrant (3-5 minutes). Anyone who walks into your kitchen at this point should heartily exclaim, “It smells SO good in here!”
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. While the onions and garlic are cooking, peel (or don’t) and dice the carrots and dice the celery. Add the carrots and celery to the skillet and continue to sauté until the carrots begin to soften (5 minutes).
Season the vegetables with salt (about 1/2 tsp), thyme, smoked paprika, and freshly cracked pepper. Add the tomato paste and flour to the skillet. Stir and cook until the vegetables are coated and the pasty mixture begins to coat the bottom of the skillet (about 2 minutes).
Add the vegetable broth (starting with 1 cup) to the skillet, stirring to dissolve the flour and tomato paste from the bottom of the skillet. Add another ½ cup of broth if the mixture seems dry. Allow the broth to come up to a simmer, at which point it will become thicker. Stir in the corn and frozen peas, season with another ½ tsp salt and allow to mixture to heat through for a couple of minutes. Stir in soy sauce and taste. Adjust seasoning to your liking.
Spread the mashed potatoes out over the surface of the filling. Use your spoon to make a decorative pattern in the mashed potatoes, if desired. Extra peaks and valleys in the potatoes means more opportunities for those burnt bits at the top (aka the best part). Drizzle with a bit of olive oil (this will help with browning) and finish with a few more grinds of black pepper and a dash of soy sauce.
Bake the shepherd's pie in the oven for 10 minutes, then heat the broiler to high. Transfer the pie to the top rack of the oven and broil 3-5 minutes, or until the top has browned to your liking. Serve with hot sauce if desired.
Try Sangiovese with this dinner. Its lively acidity, moderate tannins, and savory notes will balance the richness of the meal. A peppery Northern Rhone Syrah would punch up the buttery potatoes.