Winter means a crackling fire, twinkling lights, warm blankets, and hearty meals. During this time of the year, I love to create meals that are comforting, cozy, and make me feel okay about the sun setting before 5 P.M. A traditional cottage pie has a roasted meat bottom layer with a potato topping. Dating back to the late 1700’s, cottage pie was a hearty and rustic meal made by farm folk who lived in humble cottages and would have been eating a decent amount of potatoes due to how affordable potatoes were at the time. The term cottage pie is sometimes used interchangeably with shepherd’s pie, but shepherd’s pie is primarily made with lamb or mutton.
This cottage pie had a makeover so that it is full of local winter vegetables and a little lighter than it’s traditional counterpart, while being just as tasty and comforting for those cold nights. The majority of the potatoes have been replaced with cauliflower, and the meat filling also has greens, carrots, onions, and celery, This dish works well with either ground beef or turkey, and can be scaled up to feed a large crowd or to pop into the freezer. Both the meat filling and cauliflower and potato topping are cooked separately, and then are layered and rebaked in the oven. A little bit of cornstarch or tapioca starch is used in the meat filling as well as the topping to help them stay firm during the second baking process and keep all of the flavor in. If you wish to freeze this dish, skip the second baking step and freeze. After you remove the pie from the freezer and let it thaw, place it back into the oven until it begins bubbling and the top starts to brown. This cottage pie can be a one-dish meal, or would pair well with a fresh salad.
Cottage Pie with Cauliflower Crust
1 Large Head Cauliflower
2 Medium or Large Potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
1.5 tablespoons Salted Butter
1 Small Onion
3 Celery Stalks
½ small bunch of Kale or Collard Greens
½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
½ teaspoon Dried Thyme
½ teaspoon Salt
Pinch of Black Pepper
¼ cup Water or Broth
2 + ½ teaspoons Tapioca Starch or Cornstarch, divided
1 tablespoon Olive Oil or Butter
1 lb. Lean Ground Beef or Turkey
Peel and chop one of the potatoes into one inch pieces and chop the cauliflower into florets. Steam the potatoes and cauliflower until soft. Remove the steamer basket from the pot and allow the vegetables to cool uncovered.
Dice the onion, carrots, celery, and second potato. Chop the kale or collard greens into small, thin slices and set aside. Heat a large skillet on medium heat and add 1 Tbsp. of olive oil or butter. Add the onion and saute for about five minutes, or until the onion is soft and beginning to brown. Add the carrots, celery, and potato, sprinkle with a little salt, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add the ground meat and crush it up with a spoon or spatula in the pan. Begin to brown the meat and add the garlic powder, thyme, pepper and salt. When the meat is nearly cooked through, add the greens, and water. Once the meat is browned, the greens have begun to wilt and water is bubbling, stir in the 2 tsp. of tapioca or cornstarch. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a food processor, pulse the steamed potatoes and cauliflower, butter, a dash of salt and pepper until just combined. Add the ½ tsp. of tapioca starch and pulse a few more times until everything is combined.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, spoon out the meat mixture into the baking dish and spread it out evenly. Use a spoon and spatula to spoon and smooth out the whipped cauliflower and potatoes. Place the baking dish in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the topping begins to brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with thyme before serving.