Rule #56: Sometimes you’ve just gotta shake things up a bit.
Shepherd’s Pie has to be one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. It hits all the main qualifications for Comfort Food Royalty: meat, veggies, gravy-like sauce, and a cheesy, delightfully sinful topping. Since we’re trying to live that low-carb life around here, I thought I’d lighten up the topping and swap cauliflower for the usual potatoes. Trust me when I say, I may never go back to Tater Life again. The topping is cheesy, salty, and light. You get all the comfort food deliciousness without all the carby guilt.
To make the topping, you can either A) boil 2 heads of cauliflower florets for 30 minutes and drain them. Or B) microwave 2 bags of steamable cauliflower for 6 minutes each and call it a day.
You’re going to need 1 oz. of cream cheese, an egg yolk, some melted (and cooled) butter, and about 8 oz. of shredded cheese. We use an Irish cheddar in this dish because hey, Shepherd’s Pie is an Irish dish, so that can’t be a bad call, right? Irish cheddar has just a bit more salt and a bit more bite than your regular cheddar. If you’re not into venturing out, just use plain ole cheddar.
Throw the steamed or boiled cauliflower into a food processor. Make sure to let it cool before you start blending otherwise you’ll build up a lot of pressure and create a very messy situation for yourself.
Add in your shredded cheddar, egg yolk, and melted butter. (Also – if the cauliflower is too hot, it will ‘cook’ the egg! No bueno.)
Blend until smooth, then add in some cream cheese, salt, and pepper. Blend again and set aside.
Now, we make the filling! In a large Dutch oven or oven-proof pot, heat 2 tbs. olive oil until shimmering. Sauté some onion and carrot until tender (about 8 minutes). Add in garlic and sauté 1 more minute until garlic is fragrant.
Now, add in some ground lamb (you can definitely sub ground beef if you prefer) and some smoked paprika (regular paprika works, too).
Brown the meat, then make a hole in the center of the pot. Add in some tomato paste and let it cook for about 1 minute to ‘brown’ the paste. This will take out some of the super sweetness that comes with the tomato paste.
Stir the mixture, then sprinkle on some flour.
Stir to combine, then add your herbs, Worcestershire sauce, and some beef stock. Stir to combine, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to get up all of that yummy flavor.
Lower the heat to medium-low and add in some frozen peas.
Stir, cover, and allow to cook until thickened (about 15 minutes).
Then, spoon on the cauliflower mixture and spread into an even layer. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly and the cauliflower has started to brown.
Turn on the broiler for 1-3 minutes, to get the topping to a nice golden-brown color. Garnish with chopped flat-leaf parsley and serve warm.
This freezes VERY well, so don’t be afraid of the large portion size. Just store in airtight containers or Ziplocs for up to 3 months in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the fridge and heat ’em up.
The Lighter Shepherd’s Pie
For the Topping
2 medium heads cauliflower, chopped (florets only) OR 2 (16-oz.) bags frozen, steamable cauliflower
8 oz. cheddar, shredded (we use an Irish cheddar, but regular is just fine)
1 large egg yolk
2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 oz. cream cheese
¾ tsp. Kosher salt (more or less to taste)
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
For the Filling
2 tbs. EVOO
1 yellow onion, diced
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. lean ground lamb
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tbs. tomato paste
3 tbs. flour
1 tbs. Worcestershire
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup beef stock
1½ cups frozen peas
Kosher salt, to taste (~ 1 1/2 tsp.)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (~1/4 tsp.)
To Make the Topping
In a large pot of salted water, boil the cauliflower florets and potato for 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain well. OR Cook 2 bags of frozen cauliflower according to package directions (usually 6 minutes each). Allow cauliflower to cool slightly.
In a food processor, combine the cauliflower, shredded cheddar, egg yolk, and butter. cream cheese, egg yolk, and 2 tbs. melted butter. Puree until cheese is melted and cauliflower is smooth. Add in the cream cheese, ¾ tsp. Kosher salt, and ¼ tsp. ground black pepper, and puree until smooth. Set aside.
To Make the Filling
Preheat the oven to 375.
In a large Dutch oven or oven-proof pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until glistening. Add the onion and carrots and cook until tender, stirring occasionally (about 8 minutes). Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute), stirring occasionally. Add the ground lamb, crumbling to break the pieces into smaller bits. Sprinkle the paprika over the lamb mixture. Cook until the lamb is browned, stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes).
Make a little hole in the middle of the lamb mixture and put the tomato paste inside of it. Brown the tomato paste for just a minute until it’s fragrant. Stir the tomato paste into the whole mixture. Sprinkle the flour over the whole thing and stir to combine. Add the Worcestershire, herbs, and beef stock. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low. Stir in the peas, cover, and allow to cook until the mixture thickens (about 15 minutes). Season with S&P.
Spread the cauliflower mixture evenly on top of the lamb mixture and place, uncovered, in the oven. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes until the cauliflower starts to brown.
Turn on the broiler and broil for about 1-3 minutes until the cauliflower gets golden-brown on top. Garnish with parsley. Serve with Worcestershire.
To make ahead
Assemble the whole pie and keep in a 175 degree oven until you’re ready to serve. Heat to 375 for about 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is browned on top.