A few people have asked, relatively recently, whether or not I ever make Shepherd’s Pie.  The answer is, yes, I do sometimes make it; but it’s not often, and I have almost never made a “proper” shepherd’s pie.  That is to say, as my utterly and fabulously British friend B.W. would remind me if she were sitting next to me, I have almost never used lamb for it, and certainly not the leftovers of GOOD lamb.  But as B.W. and probably all other true British folk are aware, the Shepherd’s Pie was an invention meant to help use up all the leftovers of a Sunday roast lamb dinner — it was meant to keep families from wasting food.  So it occurred to me recently that it would be smart of me to give that whole Sunday-roast-turned-“pie”-supper thing a shot.

You could make this with ground lamb if you didn’t have leftovers.  You could make it with beef if that’s what you happened to have on hand.  Heck, I’ve even made it with ground turkey, though I don’t necessarily recommend that as my first choice (and I think the turkey option is greatly improved by adding a little bit of bacon).  It’s fine to add extra vegetables if you want to use something up, and it’s fine to use any kind of stock or broth you have lying around.  It’s great with wine or with beer.  In short, this is one of those things you can just about literally throw together without having to consult a recipe eight million times, and it’s almost guaranteed to turn out just fine.

The other great thing about this Shepherd’s Pie recipe is that you can EITHER make it ahead of time and just warm it in the oven when you need it, OR you can pull it all together in a big skillet, top it off with the potato topping, and bake it right in the pan.  Neither way is right or wrong; it’s all about what you have time for.  This week, I made mine in advance because I needed something J. could pop in the oven while I’ve got the boys at L.’s therapeutic riding session on Wednesday evening — we come home hungry on those nights.

The pie, waiting for its mashed potato topping

By the way, if you’re in need of a roast lamb recipe so you can make one on a Sunday, and hence provide yourself with the leftovers needed for this Shepherd’s Pie…I just happen to have a super-easy and delicious method.  We marinate a 4-lb. boneless leg of lamb (rolled and tied) in 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of red wine (you can substitute 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar if you don’t use alcohol), 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 6 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tsp. of salt, and 1 tsp. of black pepper.  Turn the meat every 20 minutes or so to make sure it gets coated on all sides; let it hang around in the marinade for 2-3 hours.  Then chuck it in a roasting pan, pat it gently to absorb excess liquid, and roast at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.  Reduce the oven heat to 325 degrees and continue cooking the roast for another hour and twenty minutes or so; what you’re looking for is approximately 20 minutes per pound, to get it to somewhere between medium-rare and medium.  When the cooking time is done, let the lamb rest for 20 minutes before carving.  Oh, yeah, and if you want a crazy good and easy complement to the meat for your Sunday supper, throw a sliced bulb of fennel and a sliced onion into the meat drippings in the roasting pan and let those cook at 400 degrees while the lamb is resting on the counter.  You don’t need much more than some mashed potatoes and a nice big salad after that.