Old Fashioned Shepherd’s Pie with Lemon Mash

     The smell of shepherd’s pie cooking is overlaid with memories, wafting me back to my own and my children’s childhood suppers. This version is pretty much my mum’s recipe made with the remains of a roast lamb joint instead of fresh minced lamb. Traditionally it’s a plain dish, the minced or chopped meat stirred into fried onion with carrot and leftover gravy, or liquid from cooking the carrots, salt and pepper the only seasoning. The amount of meat can be eked out with extra vegetables like celery and the flavour perked up with fresh herbs, although all sorts of other ingredients find their way into shepherd’s pie. I always add tomato ketchup if I am making it with fresh mince, my sister likes Lea and Perrins, but mushrooms or peas, tomatoes and wine, even haggis or black pudding, morcilla or boudin noir, turn up in shepherd’s pie. I like plenty of butter in the soft, fluffy mashed potato topping but another reinvention is to use sweet potato or other root vegetable mash. My job when my mum made shepherds pie was ploughing the mash with a fork to get a good crusty, golden finish.  It looks stupendous if the mash has been beaten with egg and then piped.

Serves 4-6

Prep: 40 min

Cook: 30 min

1 large onion

2-3 tbsp dripping or vegetable oil

2 sprigs thyme

1 large carrot

500-750g leftover roast lamb

1 tbsp flour

1 lemon

1 tbsp chopped parsley

1kg boiling potatoes

100ml milk

50g butter

3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

Peel and finely chop or grate the onion.  Heat the dripping or oil in a spacious frying or sauté pan and cook the onion until soft and golden, stirring in the thyme. Scrape the carrot and slice thinly. Boil in 250ml salted water until just tender. Drain and save 175ml water. While the onions cook, slice the meat off the bone in big pieces, pick over and remove fat and sinew. Chop into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the meat and carrot into the softened onion, discarding the thyme sprig – most of the leaves will have fallen off. Sift the flour over the top and stir until disappeared. Add carrot water, any leftover meat juices or gravy. Simmer, stirring, for a few minutes until thick. Stir in juice from half the lemon and the chopped parsley. Pile into 2 litre capacity, 4cm deep earthenware, ceramic or glass dish.Peel, rinse and boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain. Melt most of the butter with the milk in the potato pan. Return the potatoes, mash smooth then add juice from the remaining lemon half. Whip with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Top the cooled pie filling with the mash, making swirls with a fork. Dot with the last of the butter and dredge with Parmesan. Bake at 200/gas mark 6 for 30 minutes or until the top is crusty and golden.