Many will tell you the best pie filling is apple, cherry, or key lime. I am here to loudly insist that it is meat, then shout over you when you say that’s not really what we were talking about. I just enjoy shepherd’s/cottage pies (lamb/other meat is the distinction there) overly much. There’s nothing more comforting when staring down the barrel of winter in the Midwest than a bubbling-hot shepherd’s pie and a strong, dark beer.
Usually, these pies require an hour or so of baking in giant crockery or a jam-packed Pyrex dish. I am nothing if not impatient, and my fridge hasn’t had a casserole-sized piece of open real estate for years. But I do have a ton of ramekins, a few of those “what the hell am I going to do with these?” tiny oblong Dutch ovens, and a pretty good recipe that you can prep ahead and throw together on a weeknight with minimal fuss.
The goal here from my Takeout superiors was to create the homey comforts of a shepherd’s pie, but do so in under 30 minutes. As I discovered, you can. That being said, a lot of the timing is dictated by what you’ve got on hand, how fast you can chop an onion, and your willingness to use instant mashed potatoes—a food that many enjoy, but that I hate at what seems to be a genetic level. Better yet, make these when you find yourself with a mound of leftover mashed potato from the night before.
If you’re the make-ahead type, then double (or even quadruple) the recipe for a whole week’s worth of hot, tasty pies. It scales up perfectly, as does all good hibernation food. It’s also great for clearing out the recesses of your fridge — the heel of Parmesan, the forgotten bag of open peas, that one last carrot from the bag. Seriously, throw whatever you’ve got in here, because meat-and-potatoes is a forgiving medium.
Makes 4 individual pies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet, and brown the ground lamb, breaking it up as you go. Season with salt and pepper. When the pink turns brown, about 4 minutes, remove and set aside.
Add a tablespoon more oil and cook the onion and carrot for 5 minutes, until just softened. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Return meat to the pan and add the tomatoes, peas, dry mustard, thyme, and tomato paste. Stir together and cook another minute, until the paste begins to darken slightly.
Add the beer, bring to a boil, and simmer until slightly reduced and smooth, about 5 minutes. (If you’re looking to fancy up the proceedings, add 3 oz. of chicken stock and reduce again for a glossy finish.)
Spoon the pie mixture into the vessels (it’s about 5 ounces per vessel in whatever ramekins I got gifted with my first apartment, and a healthy 6.5 in those fancy pants Dutch-oven-like dishes), then top with about 1/3 cup of mashed potatoes, rough it up with a fork, grate some Parmesan on top, and place in the oven on a baking sheet.
Bake 12-15 minutes*, until the mixture is visibly bubbling around the edges of the potatoes. Remove and serve with a kinda-cold (let’s say 50-55 degrees) pint of tasty, possibly English, beer.
*If you’re baking the pies straight from the fridge, add an extra 10-15 minutes and/or use the convection option if you have it.