Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Recipe XXIV - Hachis Parmentier (or Shepherd's Pie, to me and you!)

The French - you have to love them for their sheer persistence that everything that came out of a kitchen was theirs - named this dish after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the father of the potato. He was in fact an 18th century nutritionist with a large share in the potato market, so it was in his interests to promote the potato, seen up until that point in France as only good for the pigs. However, this dish is extraordinarily international. In Portugal, it's "Empadão", in Spanish South America it is called "pastel de papa", in the Arab Mediterranean it's called "Siniyet Batata" or simply " a plate of potatoes", and even in Russia, it has the name "Картофельная запеканка", or "kartofelnaya zapyekanka", meaning "potato pie". But all the time a restaurant calls it "hachis Parmentier", they can sell it for three times the price!
I like this dish because it reminds me of my dear mother, whose cooking I didn't appreciate nearly enough.

500g pure beef mince
300g-400g potatoes
1 onion
(1 leek, or a courgette, if you like)
1 red pepper
3 carrots
1 can of peeled tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
Some red wine
(Some dried rosemary, oregano, sage or the like)
Some fresh rosemary, oregano, sage or the like
A pestle & mortar with pepper
Some milk
Some butter
Some grated cheese
Some breadcrumbs
Some olive oil

Put the minced beef into a medium-sized bowl. Add salt and some of your ground pepper, plus some of the dried or fresh herbs. Cut up the vegetables and put them in the frying pan, adding the rest of the ground pepper. After a couple of minutes once they have sweated a bit, add the minced beef. Once the beef is no longer red, add the garlic and the rest of the herbs. A few minutes later, because you don't want to burn the herbs, pour in the tomatoes and stir it in, adding as much or as little red wine as you like. I put in a lot, because it reduces, and adds a great deal to the flavour. Turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Now turn on your oven to 180°C.

While the meat is cooking nicely, peel, cut and wash your potatoes. Then put them in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil. If you cut them small enough, they take only 10 to 15 minutes to go soft. I let them get really soft so they are much more malleable, especially considering what you'll do next. Put in your milk, your butter and your grated cheese. The pan should still be red hot, but heat up the milk on the bottom, take off the heat and mash it all together.

Take a deep baking dish, pour in the meat, then spoon the mashed potato on top of it.

Don't forget to add breadcrumbs to the top. Put it into the oven until the meat is bubbling around the edges!

Serve alone or with peas, broccoli or sprouts. Oh yes, and a good bottle of dry red!

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