I love Shepherd’s Pie

I’ve just tucked into a delicious Shepherd’s Pie with garlic butter melting into the crispy potato on top. I hadn’t intended it to be quite so crispy but I put it into the Aga, poured myself a glass of wine and almost forgot about it. I love Shepherd’s Pie, it was so good.
We occasionally make it the day after we have a nice roast leg of lamb. Its best made with cooked lamb and left over gravy, it tastes quite different when its made with raw minced lamb or beef – the latter apparently should be called cottage pie.
Nonetheless, one doesn’t always have left over cooked lamb, so good fresh mince is the basis of so many heart-warming dishes and a myriad of other funky ones.
The secret of all mince is freshness – beef needs to be well hung and freshly minced. I am frightfully pernickety about mince and will only use it on the days its minced, not just for food safety reasons, but because it quickly sours even if it is carefully refrigerated. If you cannot cook it on the day, form the mince into a flat block and pop it in the freezer, of course it will keep for several months but its much better to use it up within a week or two.
Freshly minced pork makes the most delicious homemade sausages or patties. This recipe uses fresh herbs as a seasoning, but pork really benefits from spices, particularly coriander and chilli. Chubby little sausages are great dipped in a bowl of sweet chilli sauce, sharpened with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
A nice spicy mince mixture is a great standby in your repertoire – great with pasta, or wrapped in lettuce leaves or used as a filling for a wrap. With a topping of mashed potatoes it makes a deliciously comforting dish to tuck into on a chilling Winter’s evening. Buy your mince from your local butcher, he can mince it freshly as you wait and you can choose the cut you want. It should have a small proportion of fat for extra succulence. 

Shepherd’s Pie with Garlic and Parsley Butter
Serves 6
I adore Shepherd’s Pie, it is best made with leftover cooked roast lamb. Nowadays however people rarely cook large enough joints of meat to have much left over so minced raw lamb is frequently used - nothing like as delicious.

30g (1oz) butter
110g (4oz) chopped onion
30g (1 oz) flour
450ml (¾pint) stock and left over gravy
1 teaspoon tomato puree
1 dessertspoon Mushroom Ketchup 
1 dessertspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
450g (1lb) minced cooked lamb

900g (2lb) Mashed Potatoes 

Garlic and Parsley Butter

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the onion, cover with a round of greased paper and cook over a slow heat for 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook until brown. Add the stock and gravy, bring to the boil, skim if necessary. Add the tomato puree, mushroom ketchup, chopped parsley, thyme leaves, salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the minced meat to the sauce and bring to the boil. Taste and correct seasoning.
Put in a pie dish or dishes. Cover with the mashed potatoes and score with a fork. Reheat in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for about 30 minutes approx., depending on size. Serve with Garlic and Parsley Butter, melting in the centre.
Cottage Pie
Substitute minced cooked beef instead of lamb. 
Garlic and Parsley Butter

100g (4oz) butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
5 cloves garlic, crushed

Cream the butter, stir in the parsley and a few drops of lemon juice at a time. Add the crushed garlic. Roll into butter pats or form into a roll and wrap in greaseproof paper or tin foil, screwing each end so that it looks like a cracker.
Refrigerate to harden.

Serves 8-10
This South African recipe was given to us by Alicia Wilkinson from Silwood Kitchens in Capetown.

generous 30ml (1fl oz) oil
1½ teaspoons butter
450g (1lb) fresh minced lamb
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
110g (4oz) grated carrot
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2½ teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons finely chopped herbs
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cinnamon
sugar to taste - 1 teaspoon approx.
a piece of red chilli
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
10g (½ oz) almonds, chopped
some lemon leaves or ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
generous 15ml (½ fl oz) wine vinegar
2 x 2.5cm (1inch) slices of sandwich loaf, soaked in water, drained and squeezed dry

250ml (9fl oz) buttermilk
2 large eggs, free-range and organic
salt and freshly ground pepper
2½ teaspoons turmeric 

Heat the butter and oil, add onion and garlic and cook until soft. Add mince and stir well, add grated carrot, spices, chilli, seasoning, chopped almonds and lemon rind. Stir well and continue to cook until the flavours mingle. Stir in the soaked and squeezed bread, and the wine vinegar. Mix well, taste and correct seasoning.
Put the meat into a shallow rectangular baking dish and smooth over. 
Whisk all the ingredients together for the topping, check the seasoning and strain over the meat. Bake at once in a pre-heated oven 180C/350F/gas 4 until custard is set and golden.


This flavour packed sauce is the basis for a delicious lasagne or simply toss it with freshly cooked tagliatelle. I have been making Marcella Hazan's version for many years from her Classic Italian Cookbook. It is the most delicious and concentrated one I know. Marcella says it should be cooked for several hours at the merest simmer but I find you get a very good result with 1-1 1/2 hours cooking on a diffuser mat. Ragu can be made ahead and freezes very well.
Serves 6

45g (1 1/2oz) butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons celery, finely chopped
2 tablespoons carrot, finely chopped
340g (12oz) minced lean beef, preferably chuck or neck
300ml (10fl oz) dry white wine
120ml (4fl oz) milk
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 x 400g (14oz) tin Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped with their own juice.

Small casserole

In Italy they sometimes use an earthenware pot for making ragu, but I find that a heavy enamelled cast-iron casserole with high sides works very well. Heat the butter with the oil and saute the onion briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes. Next add the minced beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add salt to taste, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red colour (Marcella says that if it browns it will lose its delicacy.) 
Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated. Turn the heat down to medium, add in the milk and the freshly grated nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated, stirring every now and then. Next add the chopped tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down to the very lowest so that the sauce cooks at the gentlest simmer - just an occasional bubble. I use a heat diffuser mat for this. 
Cook uncovered for a minimum of 1 1/2 hours (better still 2 or even 3), depending on how concentrated you like it, stirring occasionally. If it reduces too much add a little water and continue to cook. When it is finally cooked, taste and correct seasoning. Because of the length of time involved in cooking this, I feel it would be worthwhile to make at least twice the recipe.

Homemade Sausages with Bramley Apple Sauce

Makes 16 approx. - Serve 8
1 lb (450g) good fat streaky pork
2-4 teaspoons mixed fresh herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram and rosemary or sage
1 large clove garlic
1 egg, preferably free range
2½ ozs (70g) soft white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A little oil

Bramley Apple Sauce (see Foolproof Food )

Mince the pork. Chop the herbs finely and mix through the crumbs. Crush the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Whisk the egg then mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry off a little knob of the mixture to check the seasoning correct if necessary. Divide into 16 pieces and roll into lengths. Fry gently on a barely oiled pan until golden on all sides. They are particularly delicious served with Bramley Apple Sauce and Potato Cakes.

Note: For Breakfast you may want to omit the herbs and garlic.


We do all kinds of twists on this recipe - for a change I recently substituted 2 tablespoons of fresh coriander for the mixed herbs in the sausage mixture and found it completely delicious. I also added a good pinch of sugar to enhance the sweetness in the oriental way. If you want to continue in that vein serve the sausages with Thai Dipping Sauce (see recipe) instead of the more traditional Scallion Champ and Bramley Apple Sauce.
Or omit the herbs, add finely chopped lemongrass, some chopped chilli and fish sauce for an Asian flavour. Wrap the sausages in rice paper wrappers and deep-fry to make crispy sausage rolls. Serve with sweet chilli sauce.

Penne with Pork Sausage, Cream and Basil

Serves 8
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion 175g (6ozs approx.), finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
250g (9oz) Italian sausages or minced belly of pork, skinned and crumbled
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
300ml (10fl.oz) double cream
500g (18oz) dried pasta
1 handful fresh basil, torn or watercress
salt and black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan to serve

Heat oil in large frying pan. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally over medium high heat, until just golden, - 5 minutes. Add minced pork and fennel seeds. Cook, stirring frequently to break up meat, until it browns, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the cream and simmer until just thickened – 1-2 minutes. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain reserving ½ cup pasta water. Add the pasta to the hot sauce. Add the torn basil leaves. Toss well to coat, adding reserved water as needed. Serve immediately with Parmesan.

900g (2lb) freshly minced beef
1 clove garlic
two teasps. Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablesp. olive oil
2 ozs (55g) chopped onion
1 tablesp. chopped parsley
Tomato fondue - see below

Sweat the onion in the olive oil until soft. Mix the mince with the crushed garlic and mustard, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the sweated onion and mix thoroughly. Fry the mixture on a very hot pan turning all the time. Add half or all the Tomato fondue, depending on taste. Simmer for a few minutes, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve spooned over freshly cooked pasta and scatter with chopped parsley.

Tomato Fondue

Serves 4-6
4oz (110g) sliced onions
1 clove of garlic - crushed 
1 dessertspoon olive oil
450g (1lb) very ripe tomatoes -in winter use tinned
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
Pinch of sugar 
2-3 tablespoon of any or a selection of the following chopped, parsley or annual marjoram 

In a heavy based saucepan sweat the sliced onions and garlic in oil on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, sweat until soft but not browned. 

It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added. 

Put the tomatoes into a deep bowl and cover them with boiling water. Count to 10 and then pour off the water immediately; peel off the skins and slice.
Add the tomatoes to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar and add a generous sprinkling of chopped herbs 
Cook for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens. Add lots of chopped herbs just before serving.

Yuk Sum
Serves 4
Don't let the name put you off! When my brother Rory and I came across this extraordinary-sounding dish on a menu in a Chinese restaurant in Birmingham we couldn't resist the temptation. It proved to be a delicious pork dish, served on lettuce leaves which are used to make little parcels as you eat it. This is my interpretation which though not authentic Cantonese, wins lots of compliments.

2 tablesp. olive oil
1 teasp. ginger, freshly grated 
2 tablesp. spring onion
8 ozs (225g) minced streaky pork
2 ozs (55g) mushrooms, chopped
1 oz (30g) celery, finely chopped
1 tablesp. Oyster sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper

Iceberg lettuce leaves

?of a cucumber approx. cut into ¼ inch (5mm) thick julienne
8 spring onion 'sweeping brushes'

Heat a wok until very hot, add the olive oil, then add the grated ginger and spring onion, toss for a second or two, then add the pork, cook on a high heat until almost cooked, then push the pork up to the side of the wok, add the chopped mushrooms and toss until cooked. Add the celery, mix with the mushrooms and pork. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the oyster sauce. Toss for a minute or two more. Taste and correct seasoning.
Put some crisp iceberg lettuce onto a plate, spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the pork mixture into the centre of each. Garnish the plate with julienne of cucumber and a couple of spring onion 'sweeping brushes'. Eat immediately by wrapping the pork, cucumber and spring onion in the lettuce to make a parcel.

Foolproof Food

Bramley Apple Sauce

The trick with apple sauce is to cook it on a very low heat with only a tiny drop of water so it is nice and thick and not too watery, always worth having in the freezer in little tubs in case you feel like a juicy pork chop for supper.
1 lb (450g) cooking apples (Bramley Seeding or Grenadier)
1-2 dessertspoons water
2 ozs (55g) approx. sugar (depending on how tart the apples are)

Peel, quarter and core the apples; cut the pieces in two and put them in a stainless or cast-iron saucepan, with sugar and water. Cover and cook on a very low heat until the apples break down in a fluff. Stir and taste for sweetness.

Serve warm and cold.

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Singapore and Thailand Epicurean Adventure in April, trip to Ancient temples of Angkor in Cambodia in May, next New Year’s Eve in Myanmar/Burma. … and much much more - 
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About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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