I don’t know what the weather is doing where you are, but here the temperatures have been falling (down to freezing a couple of days last week!) and the nights have been drawing in.  This weekend the UK goes off daylight savings time,  so it’ll be dark at 5.

This is the time when the Great British Food Tradition (no, really! there is one!) shines brightest – no one does good, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dishes quite like the English.  After I experienced my first English winter, I realized why — during the winter, particularly late November through January, it’s dark by 4:30, it’s nearly always overcast if not rainy, and it’s cold.  Not below-freezing cold, but days … and weeks … and months … where the daily high is in the lower 40s and the wind is just … mean.  No other word for it.

The only thing for that kind of weather is comfort food – food that is the equivalent of your childhood jammies with feet.  Food that is the equivalent of sitting on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, watching Jimmy Stewart running down the snowy streets of Bedford Falls, yelling, “Merry Christmas, you old Savings and Loan!”  In other words, food that not only fills and nourishes you, but also gives you hope that the days will get longer and you’ll get through the miserable winter. 

Cottage pie is one of those dishes.  It’s hot, it’s mushy, the Worcestershire sauce makes it lip-smackingly savory, and it’s got mashed potatoes on top, fercryingoutloud!  You’re almost torn between wanting to eat it and wanting to crawl inside it.  Plus, it’s a fantastic way to use up left-over mashed potatoes (helloooooo, Thanksgiving leftovers!).  In fact, I’ve been known to make a little extra mash so that I would have enough leftover for cottage pie later in the week.

Scrummy Cottage Pie

  • olive oil
  • 1 lb ground (minced) beef – if you’re trying to be healthy, turkey works well, too
  • 1 medium onion, small dice
  • 2 medium carrots, small dice
  • 1 stalk celery, small dice
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes with juice
  • 3 or 4 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about 2 cups of mashed potatoes

Preheat the oven to 350 F

In a large pot over medium high heat, pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil and saute the onions, carrots and celery until soft.  Add the garlic, give it a quick stir, then add the meat and brown well, seasoning lightly.  When the meat is cooked through, add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate before adding the canned tomatoes (I find this helps the tomato paste incorporate a little easier).  Add the Worcestershire sauce, then taste to adjust seasoning.  The consistency should be like a very thick Bolognese sauce but with a flavor that is more savory than tomato-y.

Pour the contents into a casserole dish and top with the mashed potato.  I do it in pieces rather than try to spread the potato out like frosting.  Take a large spoonfull of potato and smash it down to about a 1″ thickness, place it on the filling, then repeat, piecing the mash together like a quilt across the top.  When the filling is completely covered, use the tines of a fork to rough up the top (this will turn a crispy brown in the oven .. YUM!)  If your mash isn’t made with butter … well, first of all, what is wrong with you?!  All good mash is made with butter!  But, if it isn’t, lightly dot the top of the pie with butter, then pop it in the oven for about 30-40 minutes until it’s bubby and the top is browned.

It's not the cover of Gourmet magazine, but it's good!