Nigel Slater recently lauded the wonders of his new Aga stove in his column for the UK Observer newspaper. Like an old Franklin stove, an Aga originally had the dual purpose of heating the home and cooking food. It is at its best with food that needs a long slow cook. Given how cold our flat has been lately, I wish we had one in our kitchen. And if we did, cottage pie is the kind of old fashioned country cooking that would work perfectly in it.
As it is, I had to make do with a normal oven. That said, my Critic (who is, after all, English) said "It's the best cottage pie you have ever made, possibly the best I have ever eaten." Praise indeed! When I reminded him that he usually says my pie isn't very authentic, he replied "I didn't say it was authentic. I said it was good." So here you have it: my dubiously authentice but undoubtedly good cottage pie.
Once again, the success of this recipe depended not on finding a good recipe, but in rummaging through my kitchen for appropriate ingredients. I didn't want to drag the baby out into the cold and so relied on ingredients I had to hand. I didn't have any tinned tomatoes or tomato paste, so I found a container of roasted tomato sauce I made last fall in the freezer. I also used the leftover stuffing from my stuffed green pepper. The recipe below does not include the rice that was in that stuffing because a) as I added more meat it only made up a small part of the dish and b) by the time the dish came out of the oven you couldn't find the rice if you tried.
For the filling:
400 grams ground beef or beef steaks (I ground half the meat myself in the food processor)
1 cup chopped onions and/or shallots
1 tomato, chopped
1 tsp fresh or frozen basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 cup roasted tomato sauce (or your favourite tomato sauce)
3-4 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (it's hard to measure)
1/2 cup red wine
4 Tbs ketchup
1 tsp beef Better than Boullion paste
1 Tbs flour
2 Tbs butter
dash of Lawry's salt
For the topping:
400 grams potatoes
1/4 cup milk
4-5 Tbs butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the potatoes and set them to boil in salted water. In the meantime, soften the onions or shallots in a deep frying pan with the garlic and the olive oil. Add the ground beef and turn up the heat under the pan to cook more quickly. Depending on the fat content of the beef, you may want to drain the meat and onions after this step. Then gradually add the rest of the filling ingredients, saving the flour for last. Let the whole mixture simmer for fifteen minutes or so to allow it to thicken.
In the meantime, (providing they are done) drain the potatoes and mash them with the milk and butter. Taste for salt and pepper and be generous with both.
Pour the filling into a deep oven safe dish. If you want, you could make the dish in advance up to this point and just refrigerate the filling and the potatoes separately. In fact, it does make it a little easier, as the cold filling can support the potatoes better. In any case, when your oven is hot (200c/375f) carefully spoon the potatoes over the top and use the back of a spoon to spread it neatly over the whole. Bake for about 35 minutes at 200c or a couple of hours in a slow oven if you are lucky enough to have an Aga!