Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

In the checkout lane of several grocery stores, I have been referred to as the "weird produce girl."  I frequently challenge the checker in his/her memory of obscure produce codes.  What can I say?  I've never met a vegetable I haven't liked (unless you count parsley, which I would consider an herb--hate that grassy-tasting stuff!).

I definitely find joy in buying some of the more overlooked vegetables, such as the root vegetables featured in this recipe.  Winter is the season for root vegetables, i.e. vegetables that grow under the ground (look for them for around a dollar a pound).  Today, I want to share them with you in a Shepherd's Pie.  Filling and comforting, think of this dish as the "Snuggy" among entrees.  Tender vegetables and savory ground meat all cozy under a blanket of mashed potatoes (in this case, a mixture of both sweet and regular potatoes--if you do all sweet potatoes, it feels a little too cloyingly sweet like perhaps it should be covered in marshmallows and featured next to the roast turkey). 

A Small Primer in Root Vegetables:
 Rutabaga: (also known as "swede") firm, round, yellow-fleshed and ranging in shape and size from a baseball to softball, was originally a cross between a turnip and cabbage.  It has a bit of a cabbage taste.
Turnip: similar in size and shape to the rutabaga, mild flavor, firm texture, white with purple near the top.
Parsnip: looks like a white carrot with an extra long root, a bit sweeter and more intensely flavored than a carrot.
Carrot: hopefully, we are all familiar with the humble carrot

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
serves a lot -- 6-8 hungry folks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 pound lean ground hamburger or turkey
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 large carrots, peeled and diced into bite-sized pieces
2 small rutabagas (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced
2 small turnips (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup frozen peas3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium white (I used plain, ol' russet) potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large pot over medium high heat, saute onion in olive oil for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to become translucent.  Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute, stirring frequently, or until garlic becomes fragrant.  Add ground meat and allow to cook until no longer pink.  Stir in ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.  Toss in diced carrot, rutabega and turnips and stir to combine.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until root vegetables become tender (about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces).  Remove lid, raise heat and allow to simmer uncovered to allow most of liquid to evaporate.  Once most of the liquid is gone, add 1 tablespoon butter and frozen peas.  Stir to combine and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, to make mashed potatoes, place diced sweet potatoes and white potatoes in a medium-sized pot.  Add water to cover and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cover, simmering until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork (about 20 minutes).  Drain water and add 2 tablespoons butter and milk.  Mash, with a potato masher (or for fluffier texture, whip with a hand-held electric mixer).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spoon meat and vegetable mixture (really, it's a stew, right?) into a baking dish (or you can be especially cute and put into individual ramekins.  Spoon mashed potato mixture on top of vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (you can also stir some cheese into the mashed potatoes if that floats your boat).  Bake at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and top is starting to brown.

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