Dark Days 3: Vegetarian “Shepherd’s Pie”

A continuing series on weekly meals that use sustainable, organic, local and ethical food during the challenging winter months. See more here: http://notdabblinginnormal.wordpress.com/dark-days-challenge/

Now that title’s an oxymoron for you. Shepherd’s Pie is so called because it was originally made with meat from the herd — lamb or mutton to be exact — minced and topped with mashed potatoes. That would be a natural and easily accomplished dark days meal. The filling for this vegetarian version (preserving nothing but the potatoes) was a delicious combination of organic cabbage from our CSA, shredded Brussels sprouts and tarragon from my garden, and organic leeks and local mushrooms from the farmers’ market. Comfort food for one of the first really cold days we’ve had.  I served it with a salad of local organic mizuna and arugula from my garden.

 I think cabbage and mushrooms have a natural affinity, and I combine them lots of ways, from Chinese moo shu to this. Normally I would have used only cabbage in this pie. However, with an impending deep freeze, I sent the rescue squad into my garden to harvest big stalks of Brussels sprouts and then had to figure out what to do with them. This is one of the semi-failed crops of our local growing year and I’m lucky to have any at all. Normally, our CSA and farmers markets feature sturdy stalks ringed with plump green spheres, but not this year. The best we got were stunted, and ranged from the size of grapes to the size of peas, with those at the base blossoming.  

 So I shredded the largest ones to sauté with the cabbage, oven-roasted the pea-sized ones to sprinkle on top or the finished pie, and steamed the crown of the plant as a green vegetable side dish. The sprouts may not have looked like much but they were delicious.  I also rescued some pitiful looking but aromatic and tasty tarragon to flavor the mix, a great counterpoint

Still on the search for locally produced oil, I came across organic sunflower oil from western New York State, again slightly outside my zone but reasonably within range. It has a really short shelf life and is best kept refrigerated after opening. It was quite neutral in flavor and has a low smoke point, so I combined it with my local organic ghee for sautéing the veggies.

The potato topping was made with organic Green Mountain potatoes from a local farm, local cheese from another farm, and local organic cream that comes in picturesque glass bottles and sold at our grocery store. I do find that there’s a lot of running around to gather local ingredients. I can always buy fully organic products within walking distance but my emphasis has also been on what I can find from sustainable and ethical local sources. So far so good. Besides, I love visiting the farms and enjoying the countryside, a welcome escape from in-town living.

Vegetarian “Shepherd’s Pie”

4 medium brown mushrooms, chopped coarsely

1 leek, white and light green parts, split lengthwise, washed well and sliced (about ¾ c)

2 tsp ghee and 2 tsp vegetable oil (or all butter or all olive oil), separated into two portions

½ very small cabbage, or ¼ medium cabbage, shredded (yielding about 1½ cups)

Brussels sprouts, separated into individual leaves or chopped

1 large sprig tarragon, leaves removed

Salt and pepper

4 medium potatoes, peeled

2-3 tbsp or more milk or cream, warmed

3 tbsp grated hard cheese

Garnish: roasted baby Brussels sprouts, steamed tender tops of a Brussels sprouts stalk

Sauté the mushrooms over medium high heat in half of the ghee and oil. Set aside, and clean out the pan. Saute the leeks in the remaining ghee and oil very slowly over low heat until wilted. Raise the heat to medium and add the cabbage and Brussels sprouts.  Saute until the vegetables are crisp-tender, and slightly browned at the edges. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add the mushrooms and tarragon and turn into a pie plate or baking dish.

Meanwhile, cover the potatoes with cold water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, cooking until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart. Drain them, add the warmed milk or cream and mash them. Season with salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the potatoes on top of the vegetables. There should be a layer of about ½-inch thick. Sprinkle with the cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are lightly browned on top. (Run them under a broiler at the end if you want.)  Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4 generously.

Categories: Cabbage, Dark Days Challenge, Leeks, PotatoesTags:

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