no-bake cottage pie

When the temperature begins to drop and the first frost is felt in the air, warm, comforting food becomes almost irresistible; rich, meaty stews brimming with wine and herbs, a fat roast chicken with crispy potatoes, simmering pots of thick, spicy soup, lasagne served in steaming, heaped mountains of starchy goodness. Oh, my.

Who am I to resist the call of winter goodies, even if it is only September? Without an oven it can be difficult to embrace winter food in all of its glory, but it’s not impossible. You just need to be a little open-minded and relax some of those stringent aesthetic standards you have. Take courage. Have faith. Trust me, the finished product might look a little strange, but it’s going to taste just wonderful.

The no-bake cottage pie
500g extra lean beef mince
1 onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup vegetables (optional)
1 beef stock cube
A few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
Mashed potato, to serve

Brown the mince in a pan with the onion and garlic. If you’ve bought extra lean beef mince, you won’t need to worry about draining it, but if you’re concerned about fat content or if you’ve bought a mince with a fat percentage of 12% or higher, you can drain it and return it to the pan.

Add the thyme and bay leaves to the pan and crumble in the stock cube.

Cube the vegetables and add to the pan. Cover with a lid and allow to cook for ten minutes. Make sure you have a little taste before you turn off the heat. It should be full of meaty flavour, rounded off by herbs and vegetables.

This would ordinarily be the point at which you would scoop it into a baking dish, cover with mashed potato and drag a fork across the top to create beautiful designs. Instead, the no-bake cottage pie is assembled as follows: scoop it onto a plate, freeform, and top with piping hot mashed potato. If you’re worried about how it looks, try using small individual dishes and cover the meat with the potato. If you’re game, try topping it with cauliflower mash instead.

I know, I know, I know that it doesn’t really look like your traditional cottage pie. But at the end of a long day and a freezing trudge home in the rain, this is simply a plateful of warm, loving goodness that reassures you that everything will be all right.

It might not win any beauty contests, but to me this pie is just gorgeous.

A note about vegetables: One of the nicest things about cottage pie is that it’s very forgiving in terms of ingredients. Traditionally, it was made with leftover roasted meat and sometimes appeared with no vegetables at all. These days you often see it with cubed carrot and potato, which you can absolutely use if you prefer, but for me it generally depends on what I have left in the fridge at the end of a week. Be adventurous! Mince can take almost anything you throw at it!

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