Monday, 22 March 2010

Cottage Pie

Vegetarian cottage pie

British food often gets a bad press, but at it’s best it’s comforting, simple and, most importantly, easy to make. My favourite is probably cottage pie. It may take a little bit of time but it’s worth it - you can prepare the filling as the potatoes for the mash are cooking then, once it’s in the oven it looks after itself. I first started cooking this dish from a student cookbook my mum gave me when I went away to university. Bizarrely, in my opinion, it uses a layer of diced potatoes for the crust instead of mash. Why go to the bother of peeling and boiling potatoes if you don’t put the little extra effort necessary into making mash and doing it properly?

Although it’s a traditional winter warmer, a comfort food based around the classic combination of gravy and mash (I‘m not sure what‘s so great about this combination, maybe the contrast between dry crispiness and wet richness), I can’t stop myself from eating it all year round.

It’s customary for cottage pie to have carrots in it but I have issues with cooking carrots (in my opinion, one of the most delicious raw, snacking vegetables is ruined by cooking it). I quite often use peas or whatever other vegetable I happen to have around - beans and leeks work well - instead.

Serves 4

For the filling:

400g Quorn mince
1 Medium - large onion
1 large clove garlic finely chopped
12 heaped teaspoons Bisto ‘beef’ or ‘classic’ gravy granules (Bisto beef granules are suitable for vegetarians, supermarket own brands may be too)
12 heaped teaspoons frozen peas
4 tablespoons tomato puree
4-5 tablespoons tomato ketchup (tomatoes finely chopped is another addition I make sometimes, but it depends on how tomatoey you like it)
Up to 600 ml water
Salt and pepper

For the mash:

75ml milk
12 medium sized potatoes
Hard cheese eg cheddar, Red Leicester, Edam
Two tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut into small cubes. Place in a large pan with water and bring to the boil. Put a lid on the pan and simmer briskly for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and garlic and place in a pan with the water. Bring to the boil. Add the Quorn mince and stock, stir well and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomato ketchup and tomato puree. After about ten minutes (of the 15 minutes), add in the peas. The mixture should be thick and not too runny. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper.

At this point, turn the oven on to start heating up.

By now, the potatoes should be cooked. Drain most of the water out, maybe leaving a little in the bottom. Mash smoothly using a masher or fork. Add in the milk and mash some more. Add in the butter and mash some more. Grate in cheese to taste and stir well. Add more water or milk if desired. Season with salt and pepper. Sometimes I also put some herbs in such as parsley.

Spoon the Quorn filling into the bottom of a large, shallow dish. Make sure it’s evenly distributed.

Put a layer of mash on top, making sure all the filling is covered up. Smooth with a fork (I like this bit as the ridges go brown and crispy when it’s cooked). Grate some cheese on top, to taste.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Freeze any leftovers and reheat for lunch or future dinners.