Shepherd’s Pie

It’s definitely shepherd’s pie weather, supreme comfort grub, perfect with frozen peas, cauli cheese or Chang’s Cabbage (recipe follows) a favourite from Caroline Conran’s recipe in Poor Cook (if you see a copy snap it up). It makes a change from boiled cabbage. ‘This is a lovely sweet-sour cabbage, very Chinese but rather good with Shepherd’s Pie or chops. It is also very quick – cooked in seconds.’ Anchovy essence, incidentally, or a couple of mashed anchovies in olive oil, brings extra depth to the flavours; salty but not fishy and entirely optional.

Serves 4-6

1 onion

3 carrots

1 celery heart

2 tbsp dripping or vegetable oil

1 bay leaf

leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme

750g good quality minced lamb

1 tbsp flour

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 dsp anchovy essence, optional

150ml water

for the mash:

1.5kg floury potatoes

100ml milk

50g butter

freshly grated nutmeg

extra butter

Halve, peel and finely chop the onion. Scrape, trim and grate the carrots on the largest hole of the cheese grater. Remove celery strings and finely chop the celery. Heat most of the dripping/oil in a heavy casserole and fry the onion over a medium heat for a few minutes. Add the celery, carrot, thyme and bay leaf, season with a little salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are tender. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining dripping/oil to the pan and briskly fry the meat, stirring until it changes colour. Sprinkle over the flour, stirring it in thoroughly, add the ketchup, anchovy essence and then the water. Cook for a few minutes and then return the vegetables to the pan. Leave to simmer for 30-45 minutes until thick and nicely amalgamated. Adjust the seasoning. Remove the pan from the heat, tip the contents into a suitable shallow earthenware dish and leave to cool and firm. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, cut into even-sized pieces, rinse and boil in salted water until tender. Drain into a colander. Melt the butter in the milk in the potato pan then return the potatoes (through a Mouli-legumes or ricer gives perfect mash) then whip with a wooden spoon to make a fluffy but firm mash. Season with black pepper and nutmeg. Spoon the mash over the cooled minced meat, fork the potato up or make ploughed ridges with a fork and dot with butter. Bake now or later at 180C/gas mark 4 for 30 minutes until the top is golden and crusted and the meat beginning to bubble up around the edge.

Chang’s Cabbage

Serves 6

Prep: 15 min

Cook: 15 min

750g cabbage, green or white

2 tbsp oil

few drops soy sauce

1 tsp salt

3 tsp sugar

2 tbsp vinegar

Mix salt, sugar and vinegar together. Slice the cabbage as finely as you can, discarding the tough stalks and outer leaves. Wash well and then shake as dry as possible in a cloth, as you would salad. Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok over a fairly high heat, and when it is really hot (but not burning), fling in the cabbage. Keep it moving about with a wooden fork, if you have one, or a spoon. As soon as it is all covered with oil, shake a few drops of soy sauce over it, then pour on the vinegar mixture. Let it cook a minute or two and serve at once, hot, crisp and juicy.