Sunday, February 18, 2007

When in Shepherd's Bush...

With the first mincing-machines, prison, school and seaside boarding house cooks acquired a new weapon to depress their victims, with watery mince, shepherd's pie with rubbery granules of left-over meat, rissoles capable of being fired from a gun.
- Jane Grigson
Some of our readers may know that Tam is in the midst of a career crisis; in fact, you may have read it in our profile. Some years ago, between jobs, he seriously considered herding sheep for Laura's cherry-farming cousin, who was entertaining the idea of using a flock of sheep to keep the grass short in the orchard, with the additional hope that the residual sheep's milk would make excellent cheese. "I'd make a great shepherd," Tam told him. "I look fabulous with a crook, and I can be sore afraid at the drop of a hat." Alas, it turns out that sheep prefer the taste of cherry bark to grass, but then, who doesn't?

So, instead, for the past few months Tam has been wrestling with his future from Shepherd's Bush in west London, each glance at the tube station sign a constant reminder of the tragic failure of his shepherding career before it even began. There are competing explanations of the name of our fine neighborhood; it may have arisen from the use of the common land here as a resting point for shepherds on their way to Smithfield Market, or, rather less romantically, the area might have been named after someone in the neighborhood (in 1635 the name was recorded as "Sheppards Bush Green"). Either way, mustn't grumble; even if you're not a shepherd, you can still have pie...

Despite her less-than-inspiring description, we adapted our recipe for shepherd's pie from the classic English Food by the queen of English food (or anyway, British food writing), Jane Grigson. If you do it right, she admits somewhat reluctantly, shepherd's pie "can be well worth eating." It definitely makes a splendid meal for a cold February evening in the bush.

Shepherd's Bush Pie

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 lb minced lamb
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
pinch crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons flour

4 medium potatoes
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent; add garlic and stir for a minute. Turn heat to medium-high and add lamb, rosemary and red pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until lamb is thoroughly browned. Mix half of broth with flour and stir or shake to combine. Add tomato paste, wine, broth and broth/flour mixture to the lamb and simmer for about 10 minutes, covered.

Boil potatoes and mash with milk and butter, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Spread lamb mixture in a baking dish and top with potatoes, drawing fork over top to create ridges. Bake for about 40 minutes, then put the dish under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 2-3.

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I'm going to try this, here in cold Wisconsin, but first, a toast to shepherds!
P

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