The current situation in Ukraine — not “the” Ukraine as HRH refers to it — has wreaked havoc in our household for almost an entire calendar year.
I realize that it’s not all about me, but seriously? It’s getting really old. My mother-in-law (who is fairly sure it is all about her) holds me personally responsible for the current Nazi-Fascist junta in Kyiv, which is fine, because I blame her for the fact that I can’t get brie or Mortadella in Moscow anymore. Meanwhile, I suspect HRH of having a bit more sympathy with the terror — sorry, the separatists — than I think any intelligent, well-educated person with access to broad band ought to. Frankly, I’m fed up with the whole thing. Aren’t you? My general disgust and ennui with the situation kept me on the edge of my seat last week as Angela the Great and that French guy tried to broker a peace settlement. It was real diplomatic drama, such as you just don’t get at a regularly scheduled meeting of the G-19.
Sadly, it looks as if this iteration of the ceasefire won’t last for long, so we will have to make the most of it while it does.
Entente, however short-lived means comfort food. Well, it does to me. Nothing says, “It doesn’t matter which preposition you use in front of ‘Ukraine,” I still love you!” like a lovingly prepared, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs casserole type dish like Cottage Pie. This is the kind of stuff Mrs. Patmore and Daisy serve to the downstairs peeps on Downton, making it ideal Sunday night nosh. It’s a versatile, sweep-the-contents-of-the-fridge dish, which lends itself perfectly to Moscow’s current limited list of ingredients. The great thing about Cottage Pie is that you don’t have to have great quality meat (although it certainly doesn’t hurt) to build up some fantastic flavor and texture. I use the tails from tenderloins, which I freeze, and when I have enough, out comes the meat grinder!
Nothing says “I don’t care which preposition you put in front of ‘Ukraine’ — I love you anyway!” like a heart-shaped cottage pie.
My friend and fellow Moscow blogger Potty Mommy (her nom de guerre, obviously) taught me a handy trick she’d gleaned from Saint Delia: form the potato mash into golf-ball sized spheres, then place them on top of the pie’s filling. The smooth, round surface underneath creates something of a seal, so you don’t end up with that kind of stodgy mess you get when the mash mixes with the filling — don’t you just hate that?
As for the rest — be creative! In the recipe below, I tell you how I make the mince zing with flavor, but feel free to experiment and play around with what you have in the pantry or what you could find in the store. Seriously, folks, anything goes. I found a bag of little green peas lurking in the back of the freezer, which I plunged into hot water for 30 seconds, then tossed with a little lemon juice and mint and scattered them over the pie. Better, I think, then putting them in the pie, where they lose their color and flavor, but that’s up to you. In developing this recipe, I read about fifty different recipes for Cottage Pie, and guess what? There are no hard and fast rules.
Not like…you know, a ceasefire.
Ceasefire Cottage Pie
For the Filling
30 ml (2 Tbl) of olive oil
1 kilo (2-1/4 lbs) of ground beef* at room temperature
45 ml (3 Tbl) of tomato paste
350 ml (1-1/2 cup) of red wine or beef broth or a combination of the two
250 ml (1 cup) of tinned tomato sauce or 3 cups of roasted cherry tomatoes
2 large carrots, cut into large dice
1 red or yellow pepper, cored and sliced into small pieces
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
4 cloves of garlic, mashed
15 ml (1 Tbl) of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp of ground allspice
15 ml (1 Tbl) of dried marjoram or oregano
2 tsp of smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
For the topping:
4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 medium-sized celery root, peeled and cut into similarly sized pieces to the potatoes**
150 ml (2/3-cup) of any sharp, hard cheese, such as parmesan or cheddar
30 g (2 Tbl) butter
Splash of cream if needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Notes on the Ingredients:
* Beef: Not everyone has tenderloin tails lurking in their fridge, so feel free to use supermarket mince (hamburger meat) or leftover roast beef or pork cut up into small cubes. Throw in some bacon, ham, luncheon meat — whatever is lurking in the fridge.
** I love celery root for its flavor and the fact that it packs fewer calories than potatoes, but gives us the same comfort texture. If you don’t find it or you can’t stand it, just double the number of potatoes.
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch Oven. Brown the beef over medium heat for 5-6 minutes in batches, sprinkling generously with salt and pepper. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the browned meat onto a plate lined with paper towel.
Discard all but two tablespoons of the remaining fat in the skillet. Sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the carrots and peppers and cook for five minutes.
Add the tomato paste, lower the heat, and toss with a wooden spoon to ensure the vegetables are evenly coated with the paste. Raise the heat and cook for one minute. Add the wine/broth and cook for 3 minutes, using a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the flavorful “bits” on the bottom of the pan.
Add the spices, the Worcestershire sauce and the tomato sauce. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
Allow the filling to cool to room temperature before proceeding.
Make the topping by boiling the potatoes for 15 minutes, then add the celery root and cook for an additional 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the tines of a fork pierce the surface easily.
Drain the potatoes in a colander, then set it over the empty pan to steam.
When the steam has dissipated, add the butter, half of the grated cheese, the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mash with a ricer or the back of a spoon. NOTE: don’t make this in a food processor. You want the texture to be chunky and lumpy and on the dry side. Use a bit of cream if you need to, but add it slowly and carefully in drips rather than torrents. You can always add more, but you can’t remove it.
Preheat the oven to 180℃/350℉, and adjust the rack to the medium position.
Soak a paper towel with the remaining olive oil and smear around the inside of a casserole dish, then spoon in all of the filling.
Roll the mash potato topping into small (golf ball sized) balls and place them on top of the filling, so that they are touching. Use the tines of a fork to score the top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, add a few sturdy grinds of pepper. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown.
If you want, add a few cups of frozen peas, plunged in boiling water or steamed for three minutes to each plate.
Recipe Credit: Jennifer Eremeeva
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