It was a cold wet day and something rustic, something countrified, like a shepherd’s pie was in order. I call it shepherd’s pie or cottage pie even though it is not made with lamb or beef; it is made with the lovely lentil. To me, rustic food means inexpensive, comforting and flexible. It can be made with whatever you have to hand. For example, I was out of celery and peas but I did have mushrooms, carrots, corn and peppers. I do love cooking this kind of food. You get to chuck it all in and adjust as you go.
I have made this recipe so many times now that it’s soaked into my fingertips which prepare it on autopilot. I cannot locate the original recipe or exact measurements but I hope my estimates will serve you well enough.
For the mash
6 med-sized floury potatoes or mix of potatoes and yams (I used waxy and they were not as fluffy)
butter and milk for mashed potatoes
mature or sharp cheddar grated
salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce
1 cup of puy or black lentils (I used black)
2 or 3 cloves garlic chopped
1 small onion chopped
1 large carrot chopped
1 celery chopped
4 to 6 mushrooms chopped (dried mushrooms work really well)
1/2 a pepper chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas and corn
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 vegetable bouillon cube
soy sauce or amino braggs to taste
*Optional: make the lentil mixture a red sauce by adding strained tomatoes, passata or even some tomato puree to taste
First make the mashed potatoes. Boil till tender, add milk, a fat chunk of butter, salt and pepper to taste. Leave the skin on or off. Season them well and add strong grated cheese for extra flavor. (The mash can be made more interesting by adding other root vegetables such as turnips, rutabaga, parsnip or sweet potato. Whatever strikes your fancy.)
Wash the lentils, add about twice as much cold water, bring to boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary or strain out any excess water once they are tender. Don’t cook them to a mush; they should be tender and chewy. While they are cooking, get out the other ingredients and complete all the prepping and chopping.
Or just have a glass of red wine and watch the rain coming down. Tra la la.
To the frying pan!
A generous glug of olive oil. Rustic! Dump the chopped vegetables in, but not the frozen peas and corn (and not the tomato passata if you are using). Turn the heat down and saute gently till the vegetables are soft.
Add the lentils and some cold water. Add a little at a time to keep the consistency like a bolognese sauce for pasta or like a chili. The lentil sauce should not be dry.
Add the thyme, pepper, soy sauce or liquid amino braggs, 1/2 bouillon cube. Taste and adjust the seasoning if need be. Simmer for a minute or two and add in the frozen peas and corn (and the tinned chopped tomatoes or passata if using). Again, eyeball it so that it doesn’t turn into a soup.
Preheat oven to 375.
Using a large baking dish, pour the lentil mixture in and begin covering with the mashed potatoes. Once it is mostly covered, go over the potatoes gently with a fork to smooth them down and eliminate any gaps.
Dot the top of the mashed potatoes with cold butter and bake in the oven until the top is golden brown. Around 40 minutes. My 8-yr old set the table and we ate this with a simple salad and a little bread and butter in our cozy kitchen. Enjoy!