The Bard’s Pie

The Bard's Shepherd PieTomorrow, April 23, is Shakespeare’s birthday. After almost 500 years people are still remaking his work. Joss Whedon has a version of Much Ado About Nothing coming out this summer with Nathan Fillion as Dogberry. I don’t know Joss; I’m not such a fan of Shakespearian speech in films set in modern times but I like ya so I’ll probably give it a view. My favorite version is this one from Kenneth Branagh.

What to make for one of the greatest writers that ever lived? Since I’m a history geek of course I instantly decided that it should be something he would have recognized. Problem is the food we eat has changed a great deal since his time. Shakespeare lived during an exciting time. The cross cultural food exchange that began with the “finding” of the “New World” was just getting underway. And while turkey was readily accepted, “Tastes like swan, try it!” many other now popular foods did not.  I finally decided on shepherd’s pie, which is basically a casserole of mashed potatoes over stew. He’d recognize the dish if not all the ingredients in it. In his day they would have used mashed parsnips or turnips instead of potatoes and of course no tomato sauce or corn. I’m not sure how much garlic they used in England at the time either.

The next thing I decided is that I had to go big. The bard strikes me as someone who liked the good life and liked to live large. He might not have been able to live it very often, writers then and now struggle to make a living, but something over the top seemed appropriate. I added every think I like in mashed potatoes.

Some people get all picky about shepherd’s pie and claim it’s not the real thing if it’s not made with lamb. I say phooey. Shepherd’s pie is a peasant dish and I’m pretty sure they made it out of whatever they could catch to put in the pot. Besides, my farmer was out of ground lamb. Make it out of whatever kind of red meat you can catch. I would stay away from poultry as it wouldn’t have the right texture for the stew.

Be careful of it under the broiler, it browns fast. This may have been the first time I’ve used the broiler in this oven and I set the broiler on high. Luckily the topping caramelizes before it actually burns so if it’s a bit “browner” than you would like it might still be okay. The recipe doesn’t call for parsley but that’s because I forgot to add it. I had just spread the mashed potatoes over the stew when I realized the parsley was still sitting on the counter. I would totally add it next time. If you use fresh parsley add it when you take the stew off the heat and before the mashed potatoes. You could also add it to the potatoes; chives would be another good addition to them.

The Bard’s Pie

1 ½ pounds potatoes
3 strips bacon
1 onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup sliced carrots
1 pound ground or chopped red meat
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
2 Tbsp. flour
3 oz. tomato paste
1 cup water
1 bulb roasted garlic, peeled
1 cup milk
1 stick butter
½ cup finely grated parmesan
1/3 cup yogurt or sour cream
1/3 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Set the potatoes to boil and boil until fork tender.

In a large cast iron or other oven proof pan, fry the bacon strips. Remove the bacon from the pan let drain and cool on paper towels. Drain most but not all of the bacon fat from the pan. Add the onions and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and cook over medium-low heat until about halfway to soft. Add the garlic a couple of minutes after the onion.

When the onions and garlic are about halfway to the soft stage, add the carrots, meat, and Italian seasoning. Cook until the meat is almost done (some pink is okay), about 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir in completely. Cook for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste and water. Make sure the mixture returns to a rapid simmer and let cook for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, taste to see if it needs more salt and pepper and set aside.

Crumble the reserved bacon. Combine the drained boiled potatoes, milk, butter, parmesan, yogurt, roasted garlic, bacon, some salt and pepper, and mash (a hand mixer is helpful but be sure not to over work the potatoes).

Spread the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture. Sprinkle with the shredded cheese and bake for 30 minutes, then under the broiler for 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy!

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