Winter Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie with Potato, Cauliflower, Cheddar and Chive Crust

Here are the things I love about this dish:

  • It’s pretty sneaky and sly, and you’ll find out why in a minute
  • It’s extremely flavorful and very addictive.  My meat-and-potatoes-loving husband can’t resist going back for seconds and thirds of this one
  • Just in time for Valentine’s Day, it’s also a super romantic recipe

Okay, so maybe this hearty and rustic dish is the opposite of a romantic Valentine’s dish.

I felt like I had to say something about the impending holiday.  Please note the roses and wine in my photo above in place of the romantic recipe.

So here are the major players this week ( ground beef not pictured since there really wasn’t room left on the cutting board).

Begin by starting on the potato crust.  Boil a large stock pot of water.  While that’s heating up, chop up the potatoes.  Cut each potato in half and cut each half into four about equally-sized pieces.  I peeled the potatoes because I was thinking about how the final photos would look, but you can skip this step and leave the skins on if you’d like.

Here’s the sly, stealthy part.  We’re going to add a lot of cauliflower to the dish, but in this particular recipe, you can’t actually tell.  When the crust is completed, it tastes just like delicious, flavorful mashed potatoes.

So, here’s the easiest way to cut cauliflower that I’ve found:  Hold the cauliflower on its side and cut down toward the cutting board, removing as much of the outer leaves as you can.

Next, place the cauliflower right-side up and cut it in half and then into fourths.

Now you can easily cut off the rest of the thick inner stalk, slicing diagonally into each quarter as shown above.

After you’ve chopped off all of the leaves and inner stalk, just cut any large pieces so they’re about equally-sized.

Place the potatoes and cauliflower into a steamer basket over the boiling pot of water you started.  Allow everything to cook until the vegetables are fork tender.

While the vegetables are steaming away, shred some sharp cheddar.

Why sharp cheddar? Using a cheese with a strong flavor such as sharp or extra sharp cheddar means you can use less and still get a ton of cheesy flavor in every bite.  More flavor for less fat and calories, in other words.

Next, chop up some chives.  I love chives – they’ve got healthy nutrients like vitamins A and C, they have no fat and calories, and they add such a delicious layer of flavor to the potatoes.

The easiest way to prepare them is to cut quarter-inch pieces using kitchen shears.  If you don’t have shears, your knife will also work.

When your vegetables are fork-tender, put them into a large mixing bowl and add  about 3/4 of the grated cheddar and 3/4 of the chopped chives.  Be sure to season well with salt and pepper.

Use a potato masher to mash everything up and then just stir to make sure everything is well combined.

Now the tough part:  cover with aluminum foil and set aside.  These potatoes look, smell and taste fantastic, so the ‘setting aside’ without trying 3, then 5, then 8 ‘taste tests’ is very difficult.  Just leave some for the shepherd’s pie, okay?

Now on to the meat mixture.  Begin by browning a pound of 95 percent lean ground beef in a large saute pan.

There are a couple of substitutions that will work equally well here:

  • Lamb – substitute half lean beef and half lamb, or simply use all lamb
  • Vegetarian – swap out the ground beef for black beans and chopped mushrooms

While the meat is browning, mince up some garlic and dice one onion.

And add them to the saute pan to allow them to cook and soften.  Season with salt and pepper.

Next chop up some carrots and parsnips.  I suggest using three of each in the complete recipe (below), but feel free to use more (as I did) if you’d like.  The more you use, the more healthy fiber and vitamins you get in each serving.

Have you tried cooking with parsnips this winter?  They look like white carrots and they have a distinct sweet flavor.  In terms of nutrition, they’re low-calorie with lots of nutrients including vitamin C, folate, potassium, as well as fiber.

They’re delicious in this recipe.

Prepare them just as you would carrots by peeling them, cutting off both ends, and dicing them.
One note:  if you happen to buy especially large parsnips, you may want to remove the core because it can be a bit tough and chewy.
My parsnips were medium-sized so they didn’t need the core removed, but here’s how just to demonstrate:
Cut them in half lengthwise.  Place one half, flat-side-down on the cutting board for stability and quarter it.  You’ll be able to see the darker color of the core – holding each quarter, flat-side down on the cutting board for stability, cut out the core.
Again, you only need to do this if the parsnips you bought are especially large.  Otherwise, skip this step and just chop them up as you would the carrots.
Add the diced carrots and parsnips to the saute pan and cook for about 5 minutes, allowing them to soften.
Next add the dried oregano, cinnamon, tomato paste, and thyme to the pan.
For the thyme, pulling individual leaves off the stems takes way too much, well, time.  So I just toss a few whole sprigs of thyme into the pan.
Just remember to remove them at the end, before everything gets placed into a casserole dish.
I lack the virtue of patience in the kitchen, so this method works well for me.  Tons of wonderful thyme flavor, zero work required.
Substitution:  you could also use a tablespoon or so of dried thyme if you don’t have any fresh thyme.
I love tomato paste in a tube, by the way.  Use what you need and then just put the cap back on and store in the fridge.  So much more convenient and less wasteful than the canned kind!
Now add the red wine and allow that to simmer and reduce down until you’re left with a thickened sauce.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Next, remove the thyme sprigs and spoon the meat mixture into a large casserole dish.  Add some frozen corn and stir to combine.
Top with the potato-cauliflower mash, spreading it all across the top of the dish.
Sprinkle the remaining cheddar you set aside earlier across the top.  This will help the crust brown nicely on top.
Now place the casserole dish under the broiler for about 5 minutes.  You’ll know it’s ready when the crust begins to turn a light golden brown.
 Serve yourself a nice, heaping plate.  Top with some of the remaining chives you set aside earlier. Dig in!
How can this satisfying, hearty dish be healthy?
The sweetness of the carrots and parsnips, combined with the flavorful meat, combined with the cheesy potato mash, combined with the delicate hint of onion flavor from the chives … It’s really, really delicious.
Here’s the complete recipe:
Winter Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie with Potato, Cauliflower, Cheddar & Chive Crust

Total Time:  50 minutes
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

3 small russet potatoes, chopped
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chives, chopped
1 pound 95 percent lean ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium carrots, diced
3 medium parsnips, diced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup frozen sweet corn
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Begin by making the potato crust:
 Place the potatoes and cauliflower in a steamer basket and steam over a large pot of boiling water.  Veggies will be fork tender after about 10 minutes.  Transfer vegetables  to a large mixing bowl.  Add  3/4 of the grated cheddar cheese and 3/4 of the chives.  Season with salt and pepper.  Mash the potatoes and cauliflower to a puree with a potato masher. Cover potatoes with foil to keep them warm and set aside.
For the ground beef mixture:
You can begin preparing the beef mixture while the potatoes and cauliflower cook.  In a large saute pan, brown the ground beef over medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the onion, garlic, carrots, and parsnips and allow vegetables to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, oregano, thyme, and cinnamon. Next, deglaze the pan by adding the wine. Simmer for 7 minutes, allowing the wine to reduce until sauce thickens.
Assemble the shepherd’s pie:
Remove the thyme sprigs.  Spoon the ground beef mixture evenly along the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Spoon the potato/cauliflower mash evenly over the meat.  Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese along the top.  Place in the oven under the broiler.  The shepherd’s pie is ready when the potato crust begins to turn golden brown, after about 10 minutes.  After removing from the oven, top with the remaining chives and serve.

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  1. February 13, 2012 / 2:20 pm

    Yummy! I can not wait to try this recipe.

  2. February 13, 2012 / 2:58 pm

    As always, lovely photos, lovely dish.

  3. February 13, 2012 / 3:53 pm

    Yum! Looks delicious. I love healthy recipes. Thanks for sharing. Do you come up with your recipes yourself? And do we need all the ingredients or would it be ok to skip a few, like the herbs, or substitute some, like vegetables?

    • February 13, 2012 / 7:19 pm

      I do! Yes, you can leave out the herbs, but you’ll find that the dish has less flavor. If you don’t want to buy fresh herbs, you can always buy the dried kind (they’ll stay fresh in your pantry for 6 months+) And yes, you can absolutely substitute your own favorite vegetables 🙂

  4. February 13, 2012 / 5:32 pm

    Only just discovered your site and wanted to say how thorough your posts are with plenty of lovely photos and concise but friendly instructions. Very much like the look of this recipe. Thanks

  5. February 13, 2012 / 10:22 pm

    This is certain to be a winner in my home! Your recipes are great and are versatile enough to substitute ingredients if necessary. Thank you.

  6. February 13, 2012 / 11:01 pm

    This is an awesome recipe! Thanks for hiding all those veggies in there. My husband requested a similar-looking shepherd’s loaf recipe and I’m going to make this instead to see if he notices anything different than the typical calorie-laden dish…

    • February 14, 2012 / 2:46 pm

      Too funny. Let me know how it goes over. Hopefully he likes it as much as my husband does 🙂

  7. February 14, 2012 / 12:59 am

    That looks amazing! Not to mention the fact that the post is so well laid out, the recipe looks super easy to follow!

    And thank you for the vegetarian option for this one as well 🙂

  8. February 14, 2012 / 3:15 am

    This looks SO good. Such a wonderful hearty winter meal!

  9. February 14, 2012 / 4:51 am

    so tempting, maybe i’ll try this! 🙂

  10. February 14, 2012 / 11:25 am

    I just stumbled across your Blog and absolutely love it. I’m always on the look-out for new inspiration and recipes to cook myself and this one will definitely be on the menu during the next week or so.
    Amazing work!

  11. February 23, 2012 / 6:18 am

    Reblogged this on Anka Huntress and commented:
    I tried this dish yesterday and it was absolutely fantastic! I changed a couple of veggie-ingredients, since I couldn’t find parsnip and my boyfriend doesn’t like corn. After checking my fridge for other veggies, I added some more carrots, leek and a zucchini (or would that be courgette in English?). The potato-cauliflower crust was amazing… most definitely a dish I will cook again!

    • February 23, 2012 / 3:00 pm

      That is great! Thank you for letting me know how this dish turned out for you – so glad you like it!

  12. February 25, 2012 / 11:04 pm

    Made it tonight. Looking great under the broiler, I’m sure it will taste great too!

  13. biggsis
    November 2, 2012 / 9:06 am

    Beautiful pix. I love the crust, it really sounds good – am going to try to make a meatless version.

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