october 7, 2016
Time to say so long to summer foods and hello to meals perfect for a chilly evening, lovingly prepared in your cozy kitchen with continued appreciation for all that is locally produced.
In climates with seasonal changes, the sweet corn and tomatoes of yesterday give way to late season squashes and eggplant, and heartier vegetables like butternut squash and its cousins. And spring lamb is going to market this autumn, thankfully raised humanely on nearby Hanover County pasture by the nice folks of Dragonfly Farms. My visit to one of the pastures this summer, arranged by farm owner Bruce Johnson, focused on their tasty grass fed beef and contented bovine eating machines, and inspired a recipe for Beef Tamale Pie. Popular on the fall menu of The Good Eats Company personal chef service, grass fed beef will now be part of a classic lasagna recipe for busy folks who like home cooked meals but not the time-consuming fuss.
I am hoping there will also be some love for this Lamb Eggplant Shepherd’s Pie, with a generous lid of mashed yukon gold potatoes and this summer’s oregano from my garden, enjoying renewed growth with the cooler nights. Lots of folks claim to dislike lamb, but I fear they have not had it prepared well, nor have they had the privilege of trying locally raised pastured lamb.
Bruce and Katherine Johnson raise Katahdin/Dorper crosses, known as “hair sheep”, in that they shed their coats instead of being sheared like sheep grown for their wool. The meat is exceptionally tender and delicious, not at all fatty as it simmers in this flavorful tomato sauce, and would likely convert anyone not overly fond of lamb. Thank goodness for local farmer’s markets, where food artisans and ethical farmers can sell their wares to happy cooks.
As a fan of Making Ahead, let me say that the shepherd’s pie base may be made ahead one or two days, but the potato topping will be less creamy and more dry/fluffy as it lives in your fridge beyond that first day. You can freeze the final dish, but only if you promise to heat in the oven; microwaving will toughen the meat and not give the dry-and-set the potato roof needs. And I do mean that the potato topping is generous, because as a potato addict, it seems no meal is complete without some form of potato – you can halve the topping recipe if you prefer a thinner potato crust. Here’s to the foods of fall, the soups, the stews and the humble shepherd’s pies, made more elegant by local pasture raised lamb.
Lamb Eggplant Shepherd’s Pie
makes six servings
1 generous cup finely chopped sweet onion
finely ground white pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground lamb, preferably pasture raised
2 large garlic cloves, zested or finely minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
1 14.5 ounce can petite dice tomato, undrained
¼ cup water
1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and cut into ¾ inch dice
2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
fine sea salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
- In large heavy sauté pan, combine onion with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt over medium high heat; when mixture begins to sizzle, turn heat to medium low and stir frequently, taking care to avoid browning, until onion softens, about 5-8 minutes.
- Increase heat and add ground lamb with pinches of kosher salt and white pepper, stirring to break up meat, and cook, stirring frequently and adjusting heat as needed, until meat is cooked through with no pink visible.
- Add garlic and oregano and stir for 10 seconds.
- Add tomatoes and water, then simmer on low heat uncovered for about 20 minutes, adding a little water if needed to make a pourable sauce.
- Add eggplant cubes, stir, then simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is just tender, about 15 minutes; pour into well greased deep 2 quart baking dish.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- While lamb cooks, cover potatoes with cold water in a heavy saucepan, add a large pinch of kosher salt, cover and bring to boil; once boiling, simmer uncovered
- When potatoes are tender (pierce with knife), drain well in colander.
- Dry the potato pot, add butter and the drained potatoes and mash until no lumps remain.
- Add milk and check seasoning – start with ¼ teaspoon salt and a generous pinch of white pepper and adjust to your taste.
- Spoon potato mixture atop ground lamb mix and bake until set and heated through, about 25 minutes.
- The lamb eggplant mixture may be made ahead 1-2 days; make potato top just before ready to serve.