That said, I've improvised several meals lately that I'm so happy with I simply must write down the recipes so that I remember how. This sweet potato shepherd's pie is one of those. In fact, I just ate the tiny bit of leftover pie for lunch, and I wish I had some more, but it will simply have to wait (because right now I am braising some pork with apples and we will see how that turns out).
One of the nice things about this and another recent delightful meal (that I hope to post about soon) is that it's all made in my beloved cast-iron skillet. I make the meat filling in the skillet first, then spread the mashed sweet potatoes over the top, and pop it all in the oven. You could make it in a separate baking dish, but why? Why would you do that when it comes out of the oven all nice and rustic and in a heavy pan and great?
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, diced (see photos for how to dice onions)
- 2 medium carrots, chopped finely
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen organic)
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp beef bullion
- Generous splash of red wine (optional, but delicious)
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 4-5 medium sweet potatoes, cut into pieces (whatever will get you to about 4 heaping cups of sweet potato cubes)
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup half and half (or cream)
- salt and pepper
- Panko bread crumbs (optional)
- Grated Parmegiano Reggiano (optional)
- Start by peeling the sweet potatoes and cutting them into roughly 2-in. cubes (the size isn't all that important; it will just speed cooking). Add them to salted water and bring to a boil. When they are soft (depending on the size of your pieces, between 15-20 minutes), take them off the heat and set them aside for the time being.
- In the meantime, turn the oven on 425 degrees (F). In your skillet, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add your chopped onions and carrots. Let them cook at low heat for about 5-10 minutes.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the ground beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or some such utensil. Cook it until it is no longer pink anywhere.
- Add the tomatoes, a cup of water, big splash of red wine, bullion, brown sugar, and thyme to the pan. Stir everything together and turn up the heat. Keep cooking and stirring the meat mixture at high heat until about half the liquid evaporates. Taste the mixture, add a small amount of salt and some pepper, and then let it keep cooking (careful not to add a lot of salt at this point because more of the liquid will evaporate). Let the liquid in the pan continue to evaporate. The meat mixture is done when it is loose but not watery. Taste the mixture and add as much salt and pepper as you want/need. (And of course, feel free to add herbs or hot sauce if you like that kind of thing.)
- Flatten the meat mixture in the pan with the back of your spoon or a spatula or some such. Set it aside.
- For the mashed sweet potatoes, drain the cooking water, and either put them through a ricer (recommended) or mash them with the back of a spoon. Add butter, half and half, a generous pinch of salt, and a little pepper. Taste the sweet potatoes and adjust the seasonings as you like.
- Next, spoon mashed sweet potatoes over top of the meat, spreading them around somewhat evenly. When you've got all the mashed potatoes on there, use the back of a spoon (the back of a spoon is such a useful kitchen tool, don't you think?) to cover the meat completely. Then, if you like, add some handfuls of panko bread crumbs and grate some cheese over the top and slide it all into a hot oven for about 20-30 minutes until the top is slightly browned and the edges bubble. Then eat it. You'll enjoy it. And the sweet potatoes are supposed to be good for you. Maybe add a green salad if you are feeling ambitious.