A Splendidly, Sumptuous Shepherdess Pie

By Sophia Young – Kitchen Manager at Embercombe

Before yoga, tai chi and the inspirations of other wonderful, worldly movement medicines arrived on these isles, our teacher for activity was the dance of the elements and seasons with the land itself as we planted, tended, harvested and rested over the course of each year. The essence of our wellbeing, for mind, body and spirit, was woven intrinsically within this relationship, as it was for millennia across the globe.

And whilst Summer offered her fruits and berries to reach up towards and pick from branches, Autumn long invited hands earthward. To get muddy, dig out potatoes and pluck beetroots from the soil. So, for the many growers out there who have sprouted this year since Spring sprung us homeward and nudged us towards gardens, grow-bags on balconies and communal allotments, and with the Equinox now fallen behind us and a turning towards the dark, it’s time, in time-honoured tradition, to turn our bodies towards the ground and reap that which was seeded not so many moons ago. With always hope that such is bounding with abundance, for our own kin of course but too for every soul at each hearth, table and kitchen dwelling, in all their shapes and forms. 

This recipe is dedicated to this simple yet wildly and deeply gratifying activity. It’s invitation to lean into the song of the rain that nourished the out of sight roots that gave rise to onions, leeks, garlic and all manner of friends to play with. And, as with each recipe from our kitchen at Embercombe, this is offered with inspiration to wet both appetites, imaginations and the calling for warmth and nourishment as the pathway to Winter softly winds her way towards us. 

The ingredients/inspiration:

For the filling: 

3 white onions
2 leeks
4 courgettes
2 red peppers
8 tomatoes
2 bulbs of garlic
500g of chestnut mushrooms
500g of green lentils
Handful of sundried tomatoes
Tomato puree

For the mash: 

2 small squash
4 baking potatoes
200g polenta
Cumin seeds
Sprinkle of Bouillion 

Creating magic within the method: 

In four separate roasting trays, place chopped red pepper with a bulb of naked garlic cloves drizzled with oil. Similarly add the same quantity to a tray of seasoned, loosely diced courgette. More garlic to a tray of tomatoes quartered, again drizzled with oil. And lastly, for the mash, a tray of peeled and roughly chopped squash sprinkled with cumin seeds. Pop each tray into the oven and cook at 200c for 45-60 minutes until crisp. 

Meanwhile on the stove, using two pans, place the lentils in one and cook. In the other, place diced onions and finely sliced leeks, frying both together in oil of your choice. Add salt to enliven the sweetness of the onions. Once velvety soft, add plenty of minced garlic and finely sliced mushrooms. Meanwhile chop the sundried tomatoes, then add to the mix. Season with salt, pepper and maybe a wee dash of chilli flakes. 

Then for your filling’s finale, in a large ceramic pie dish, the kind you might come upon on a charity shop saunter or inherited from a beloved great aunt, combine all these glorious ingredients, albeit with the squash in reserve for the mash. This is time for smells and flavours to romance and orientate your senses to a sense of fireside cosiness as the nights draw in. Yes. The roasted tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and copious quantities of garlic. The medley of onions, garlic, leeks and sundried tomatoes. And of course, your lovely green lentils in this always poignant, pivot between seasons. 

With a stir of your spoon, squish tomato puree and a couple of bay leaves into the fold and set aside whilst you bring your attention to the mash. Hopefully to this rather than the mounting pile of washing up as apologies, I forgot to say, this recipe is heavy on cookware! 

Prepare your spuds. Wash, scrub, quarter and either boil or steam. Combine both these and the roasted squash together with vast quantities of salt and pepper and vegan alternatives to butter. Add the polenta with a little of the sundried tomato water and a teaspoon of Bouillion. And… 

TAD DA! Your lovingly attended veg is ready to bring as one in the form as a splendidly sumptuous Shepherdess Pie!!! 

And to marry wafting flavours as well autumnal colours, a beautiful combo of sautéed red cabbage, ginger, apple and walnuts with a splash of balsamic makes a rather fine side accompaniment. 

As always, Bon Appetitie and Bon Apple-ti-toes!