Fresh peas have recently come into season in these parts and as I passed pile upon pile of satiny green pods at the farmers market, I felt a growing meat pie craving well up from the depths of my stomach.
Of all the meat pie variants, I have a particular affinity for the humble shepherd's pie (which sometimes goes by the name "cottage pie"). Brimming with meat, gravy and topped with a cloud of fluffy mashed potatoes, there's a lot to like about it. Better still, it's much less fussy than its pie crusted brethren.
As regular readers have come to expect, I can't leave well enough alone though, so I've borrowed some ingredients from the British Isles, the Iberian Peninsula and the Southern US to come up with my own unique take. If a Sunday roast and and sweet potato pie collided in a tapas restaurant, this might be their progeny.
It takes a bit of work, especially if you start with fresh peas that need to be shelled, but it's almost as fun to look at as it is to eat and it has a nice balance of flavours. You can assemble the pie a day or two in advance, so it's perfect for making ahead of a busy week, when you know you won't have much time to cook.
- Heat a large pot of water to a boil and boil the sweet potatoes whole until a fork easily passes through each one. When they're done, remove the potatoes and allow them to cool enough to handle. Peel the sweet potatoes then run them through a potato ricer or food mill to mash. Add the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
- For the gravy, melt the butter over medium low heat in a small saucepan. Add the flour and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly. Pour the stock and cognac in at once and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
- For the lamb, heat a pan over medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Add the onions and fry until translucent and fragrant. Add the lamb and use a spatula to break it up while frying until the meat is cooked. Add the mint, vinegar, sage, salt and pepper, then pour over the gravy. Cook over medium low heat stirring occasionally until the sauce has reduced a little and has become thick, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Stir in the peas.
- Fill 5 ramekins 3/4 full with the filling, then spread the sweet potato mixture on top. At this point you can cover and refrigerate (or freeze) the pies until you are ready to eat them.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and put in the oven until the top is lightly browned.