I’ve never been a huge fan of peas, so I altered the traditional pea/onion/carrot veggie mixture by swapping them out and putting more (and more nutritious) veggies instead, which include red peppers and zucchini, giving the dish a brighter color (cause let’s face it, shepherd’s pie does not appear to be such an exciting dish) and bolder flavor as well. I honestly could have just eaten the vegetable layer as a dish (and I did end up reserving some of the mixture as I was making it in the skillet).
Another variation I did was the layering of the recipe. Traditionally, the veggies are mixed in and cooked with the beef, but I cooked them separately after the beef gets browned and removed from the skillet so that they sauté nicely in all those meaty leftover juices. Yummy! And then to arrange the dish, I first layered half of the beef mixture, thenthe shredded cheese (another variation) topped with the rest of the beef, then the vegetable mixture, and finally the mashed potatoes , which I spiked with a few spices like paprika and cayenne pepper. Oh my word… deliciousness!! The cheese becomes super gooey within the meat and absolutely wonderful. If you don’t like it, you’re going to hell.
(1) Preheat oven to 375 F. In a pot, cover potatoes and one of the garlic cloves (crush it first) with enough water so that it covers them by an inch. Add some salt and bring to a boil, reducing eventually to a simmer and cooking until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the taters, return to the pot, and mash together with the heavy cream and 3 tbsp. of the butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
(2) In a large pan on medium-high heat, combine 1 tbsp. butter with 1 tbsp. oil. When the butter has melted, add the beef, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. When it begins to brown, add the worcestershire sauce. Stir in the tomato paste and saute for just a few more minutes, since you don’t want the meat to dry out (as it will also be cooking in the oven). Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Season and remove the mixture to a bowl using a slotted spoon.
(3) In the same pan, add another tbsp. butter and oil and sauté the onions until almost tender, then add the red bell pepper, carrots, zucchini, and 1 tsp. paprika. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes, and remove from heat.
(4) To assemble it all, take a 9 x 12 baking dish and first layer half the beef, pressing it down to pack it all in. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese on top, then pour the rest of the beef mixture over it, sprinkling 1/4 cup of cheddar on this layer as well. Next, add the sautéed veggies and top with the mashed potatoes. “Rake” through the potatoes with either a fork or the back of a spoon to form decorative peaks. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese and paprika over the top of the potatoes and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the edges on the potatoes turns golden brown and the cheese melts inside.