I woke this morning to a feeling of being in a meat locker. The morning temperatures have taken a dive. Gotta get to the thermostat to ignite the furnace. Winter is just around the corner unfortunately. I don’t dislike the season totally just the tremendous snowfalls and extreme cold temperatures. I remember being a child and out with my parents visiting friends, and it would be late at night coming home. I would be in the back seat falling asleep and you could hear the crispness of the now as the tires of the car were rolling along, even later on in life and jogging like a mad man relieving my stress along the road all bundled up with our dog Theo a beautiful Airedale Terrier, and you could hear the snow compact as your feet press the snow, along with it being late at night, the silence deafening as everyone was inside sleeping. Breath dissipating in the night sky, the rhythm of my breath a mantra putting me in a meditative state, some call it runners high, for me I felt like I could run forever and my dog appreciating every kilometer of it. This brings me to what inspired me to create this recipe. During winter months hardy substantial recipes come out of the kitchen providing warmth, substance and beauty, along with a feeling of caring and acknowledgement. The dish I prepared with the help of my beautiful wife whom I adore is Italian Style Shepherd’s pie.
Shepherd’s pie also known as Cottage Pie originated in England and Ireland years and years ago, approximately in the late 1700’s. It was known as a dish for the poor as potatoes were easily grown and meat was not present in abundance so some creative mind gave birth to a casserole consisting of ground beef or lamb and a generous topping of mashed potatoes and baked in the oven til a nice golden brown crust formed on the top. I think shepherds pie was quite filling and also could feed quite a few as families tended to be large. A great sustainable dish especially in harsh winters. You can say it was a meal that would stick to your ribs and digested quite slow till the next meal was available. Well shepherd’s pie has come a long way with different variations and cheese added along with mixed vegetables of corn, peas, carrots.
I wanted to make something that would represent my culture, that being Italian. We had some beautiful sweet peppers and fingerling potatoes bought at the amazing Old Strathcona farmers market, maybe one day when we figure out how to introduce video to our blog, we will take you on a tour of the market so you can feel the energy of it: usually packed with people; the eating of all those wonderful samples of organic produce, ethnic food, sweets, coffee; distinct music playing in the background, and draws for wonderful baskets of tasty goodness. In the freezer some Italian sausages that I bought from the Italian Center Shop, some onion and spices and we’re off to experience an old world recipe with a modern Italian twist.
I didn’t have a lot of fingerling potatoes so I thought with what I had I would create a beautiful base crust for the shepherd’s pie, they would become nice and crispy in the bottom of this cast iron skillet so into the oven they go to get some color and texture.
In a pot I boiled some red potatoes then roasted some garlic in the oven with the skillet of fingerling potatoes, mashed up the red potatoes adding the sweet roasted garlic and to make it creamy and tasty a dollop of sour cream and a pat of butter. To elevate the mash I used some fresh green onion and chives along with parsley. This to be the glue to keep this shepherd’s pie together, along with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese brought back from Eataly a huge super super Italian store in Rome Italy. There you will find everything and anything under the sun that is Italian. Some fresh mozzarella from the Italian center shop an added measure to ensure the density of this casserole. In a pan on the stove some beautiful Italian sausage meat that I pulled from the casings, and Nicoletta did a wonderful job as usual slicing up the colorful peppers and onions, and sauteing them to a tasty moist vibrant goodness.
The skillet out of the oven and the layers of potatoes, sausages, cheese and mash, with a crispy golden melt on top, a symphony of flavor, this Italian shepherd’s pie is.
I love the beautiful colors of the peppers against the creaminess of the potatoes, and that crust of cheese and crispy mashed potato, that alone has me hook, line, and sinker.
The tasting, a nice crunch to the fingerling potatoes then the rich flavor of the Italian sausage infused with all those good spices, cooked with the robust acidity of the tomatoes that were grown and jarred by my parents, along with the beautiful pungent and sweet combinations of the red, yellow and orange peppers, caramelized onions, the hints of melted parmigiano and mozzarella nestled in between the layers and finally those rustic red potatoes mashed peels and all with that distinct taste of roasted garlic, and herbs, softened with the sour cream and butter topped with all that crusty gooey melted cheese. Absolutely Heavenly!
I hope you enjoy this Italian Shepherd’s pie as much as we did. It was even better the next day for lunch, didn’t want to waste those leftovers, and to tell you the truth I could’t even wait for lunch time. I ate it on my coffee break lol.
- 8 fingerling potatoes
- 6 red, yellow, orange peppers
- 1/4 white Spanish onions
- 4 cloves garlic
- 5 medium red table potatoes
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley chopped
- 1 fresh green onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives chopped
- 4 Italian sausages
- 1/4 cup stewed Roma tomatoes pureed
- 2 basil leaves chopped
- 1/2 cup grated parmigiano regiano
- 1/2 cup grated mozarella (bocconcini)
- 3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
- Salt and Pepper
- Take fingerling potatoes, wash and place in pot with water, bring to boil, cook for 10 minutes, then drain and cut into long slices approximately 3 mm thick.
- While fingerling potatoes are cooking wash red table potatoes and place into a pot of water bring to boil and cook for 20-30 minutes or until they are fork tender, drain and mash then set aside.
- Take red, yellow,and orange peppers, wash and julienne.
- Take onion and julienne.
- Put about 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil into a sauté pan and toss in peppers and onions 1 clove of garlic whole, salt and pepper to taste, cook till just softened a bit and when onions are translucent, take out garlic clove, set aside pepper and onions.
- Take Italian sausages and remove meat out of casements.
- In another large saute pan place 1 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, toss in sausage meat and cook for about 15 minutes and fork the ground pork till nice and crumbly.
- Add in Roma tomato puree and basil and cook for another 10 minutes till sauce thickens and coats meat well. Set aside.
- Pour 1/2 tablespoons olive oil into a 10 inch cast iron skillet and spread evenly through out using your fingers to coat the sides.
- Place fingerling potato slices into the bottom of the pan covering the bottom but having a few spaces.
- Heat oven to 400° F and place skillet in oven, cook potatoes til crispy on the bottom about 15 minutes.
- Take 2 cloves of garlic with husk on, place in aluminum tin foil sprinkle with some olive oil and wrap it up and place in oven with potatoes.
- Take garlic out of husk and mash with a fork then mix in with mashed potatoes.
- Add milk, sour cream, butter to mash and mix well.
- Toss in green onion, chives and parsley.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, mix well again.
- Place a bit of the mashed potatoes in the spaces in between the fingerling potatoes in skillet.
- Dust lightly with a little of the grated parmigiano and mozarella not using it all because you need some in between each layer and on top.
- Place sausage and tomato mixture on top of the fingerling potatoes, spread evenly to cover bottom and again dust with both cheeses.
- Place evenly the sautéed peppers and onions and follow suit with the parmigiano and mozzarella.
- Top with the remaining potato mash and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
- Heat oven to 400° F and place skillet in middle rack of oven, cook for about 30 minutes or until top turns a nice crispy golden brown.
- Take skillet out of the oven being careful with the cast iron pan, it stays very hot for a long time so do not grab handle without having an oven mitten.
- Cut and serve.
Be careful not to submerge cast iron pan in cold water, this would cause it to crack and fall apart.
Also cast iron pans stay very hot for long periods of time be careful handling it.