dark days challenge #3: wild mushroom shepherd’s pie

This weekend was the perfect storm for wintery cuisine:  (1) the last day of school was Friday, (2) I’m working on some cookbook reviews for the Eugene Weekly, and (3) it has been freezing — the cold front will hover for most of the week.  So I spent considerable time cooking warm comfort food: a rosemary leek bread pudding, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, baked Korean ribs with a Brussels sprout stir-fry, buttery rosemary roasted sweet potatoes, and on and on.

The holiday market at the Fairgrounds is in full swing, and bustling with shoppers buying local crafts.  We picked up a woven wool scarf for Retrogrouch from John Meyers, but spent most of the time mulling over winter produce at the farmer’s market area.  This year it’s in the room adjoining the holiday market instead of the building to the north, and I’m sure that increases foot traffic.  I was amazed and pleased by the range of offerings.  I managed to snap up the last local sweet peppers in town for freezing, celery, carrots, leeks, three different kinds of persimmon and three different kinds of wild mushroom (plump golden chanterelle, hedgehog and candycap), and some potatoes, garlic, and storage onions.

I wanted to crawl inside an insulating snuggie made of mashed potatoes, so I did.

Making a shepherd’s pie is easy.  This old English one-pot supper is basically a layer of juicy ground lamb, fortified with an army of peas, carrots, and onions and a moat of broth all nestled under a topping of mashed potatoes.  The dish is finished in the oven, where the mashed potatoes are browned on top. When you scoop into the pie, the brothy meat juices mix with the potatoes, and you have the most wonderful, comforting dish ever.

The picture immediately above is the dish ready for its final oven browning.  With the local base vegetables I bought at River Bend Farm and Groundwork Organics (potatoes, onions, leeks, garlic, carrots and celery), and Cheviot Hill ground lamb, I had a terrific start on this pie.  After browning the lamb and onions, I added the rest of the aromatics — carrot, leek, garlic, and celery.  When everything looked soft and slightly caramelized, I combined the vegetables with the lamb, added rosemary, a bit of wine and a chunk of tomato paste from the freezer, then loosened the fond from the pan with about a cup and a half or so of chicken broth.

Unsatisfied with pure meat in mah pie, I thought I’d add a layer of earthiness with all the wild mushrooms I had bought — probably about a pound’s worth.  Our golden chanterelle season is just about over, but the hedgehogs and candycaps are plentiful.  Candycaps add a slight maple-syrupy sweetness to the lamb.  (I used about half of the cup or so I bought, and dried the rest for future experiments.)  The mushrooms were sautéed in butter and salt, and then layered atop the lamb with their juices.

The rosemary was from my own garden, and I used a heavy hand.  Butter and cream were from Noris Dairy, as usual, and the chicken broth was from my freezer, via Draper Valley (not local but nearby in WA).  The only thing you really need to remember with shepherd’s pie is that you need the bottom layer to be quite brothy — I think I used two cups total, plus the liquid from the cooking mushrooms, for a standard 9 x 13 glass baking dish.  A nice slug of local red wine finished it off.

Also not local:  a tablespoon of tomato paste, salt, pepper, and allspice.

I served the dish with some steamed local broccoli, simple as can be, and some homebaked chocolate chip cookies.   My husband thought he had died and gone to heaven.  It was that good.