The Disastrous Lasagne Deal
I wanted to make something savory this week and my very first thought was of Evan from A Girl Like Her, by Talia Hibbert, for whom cooking is like, a central personality feature. He introduces himself to his neighbor by presenting a shepherd's pie, and when he learns she doesn't have an oven and subsists largely on Supernoodles (a very British thing, apparently, as they show up with rather alarming frequency considering I basically only read romance novels) he just... keeps cooking for her. In exchange, she lends him comics and they talk about them over dinner, an arrangement she christens the disastrous lasagne deal. SPOILER ALERT: It is not, in fact, disastrous.
If you haven't read A Girl Like Her, please do yourself a favor and rectify that immediately. I reread it this week because I was trying to decide whether to make a shepherd's pie or lasagna (or lasagne, because... British), so I was planning just to reread Evan and Ruth's initial interactions over food, maybe pull some quotes, and I was about 0.8 seconds into my reread when I thought to myself, this is so good. And it's not like I didn't know that it was a good book. I've read it before. More than once. And I've recommended it to a bunch of people. But still, somehow, as I started it again I couldn't help but wonder, how could I forget that this is SO good?
Because it is. So good. So. Good. I mean, all Talia Hibbert's books are- she's an exceptional writer- but I'd somehow forgotten that Ruth is such a great character. And Evan. Sigh. So inhumanely, impossibly lovely. I think of him as a sort of cross between Captain America and a golden retriever, with a beard and a British accent, who is frankly obsessed with consent, and cooks... and there's a scene where he's all getting up and angry and Ruth tells him to sit and he... sits? I die. It's just so very excellent. What could be more delectable?
Oh right, food. The first meal Evan makes for Ruth is a shepherd's pie. So, I made a shepherd's pie.
I'd never made shepherd's pie before, so I searched the internet for a Mary Berry recipe since, most of my British food knowledge comes from romance novels and Great British Bake Off, I figure Mary Berry is basically the patron saint of British recipes? Then I chickened out and looked up some other recipes, like Alton Brown, just to make sure my Americanization doesn't fuck it up too badly. Since I figured I would undoubtedly Americanize it. Since I'm American. And while I love cooking, I'm actually really, really bad at following recipes. (I'm one of those a dash of this a handful of that, do it until it looks/feels/smells/tastes right type of cooks. I'm basically a thirty-something-year-old grandmother, minus the children.) Anyway, I had a pound of lamb and two recipes that called for different quantities than that and slightly different ingredient lists and instructions, so I made a sort of scaled-down hybridization. It came out pretty darn well, if I do say so myself (and two friends who tried it agreed), so that's what I'm sharing with you.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF and prep your veggies, etc.
I made the mash first. Peel the potatoes and chop 'em up (about 1" pieces). Put them in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water and a healthy pinch of salt. Turn heat up high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to simmer, and cook until tender (about 10 minutes- check with a fork: if it slides in easily and the potato piece slides right off, they're good).
Drain the potatoes, mash with the butter, milk and cream (or half an half! I didn't have half and half but had both milk and cream, so that's what I used), some salt and some fresh ground black pepper. Set aside.
Heat some olive oil in a LARGE pan. Saute onions and carrots until lovely and nicely browned, take them out of the pan and use the same pan with a bit more oil to cook the mushrooms until they've released all their liquid and cooked down nicely. Add them to the carrots and onions.
Cook the lamb in the same pan until it is nicely browned and the fat has run out, stirring/mashing/ smushing/breaking up the meat as you cook it so it cooks evenly and will make for a nice pie filling. Drain off some of the excess oil. Add the garlic, cooked veggies, chopped herbs, salt and pepper and cook just a minute or so to get them all happy together.
Sprinkle the meat mixture with the flour, toss to coat, and continue to cook for another minute or so. Add the tomato paste, stock, Worcestershire sauce, (note, I measured the Worcestershire sauce right into the measuring cup of stock, and just squirted some (honestly, unmeasured quantity) of tomato paste right into that) and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and simmer about ten minutes, until it's nice and not-saucy. Toss in the peas.
Layer the meat in the bottom of your dish
Cover with the mash. Smooth it with a spatula, right to the ends of your casserole dish and seal 'em up tight. Use a fork to pattern the mashed potatoes.
I shredded just a little teensy bit of parmesan over the mash. Not sure if it added anything, but I wanted to, so I did.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. If your top hasn't browned quite as much as you'd like at that point, turn on the broiler and let it sit for a few minutes to crisp up (that's what I did).
Let cool for about 10-15 minutes before serving. Share with friends and neighbors.
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