Wednesday, 6 June 2012

GREEKISH SHEPHERD'S PIE

A rather Nigella-ish title for a post about leftovers.....

I hate wasting food. As a child growing up in the late sixties and the austerity seventies, I was made to eat everything that was put before me. Food that was left over was invariably turned into a stew,  known at home as "gunge", usually a rather fragrant and comforting mixture of meat and vegetables in a rich tomatoey sauce, basically my mother's version of the French pot au feu. My parents were children during the war and have clear memories of food rationing and other deprivations; they also grew up in working class households where one ate up without complaint. So I suppose I inherited my mother's frugality about left over food.

On Sunday, my mother-in-law and I cooked a large leg of lamb, spiked with garlic, far too big for five of us, despite most of us having second helpings. Unlike beef, chicken or pork, cold lamb is not particularly appetising; however, it can be turned into rather delicious hot dishes, such as curry, Moussaka, or a proper shepherd's pie.

I don't make many 'traditional' English dishes such as shepherd's pie or cottage pie (the beef version), but armed with the generous leavings from the leg of lamb, I thought a shepherd's pie would be a nice, easy supper on the last day of the Jubilee long weekend. But as I started to cook the lamb, I glanced through Falling Cloudberries, a rather wonderful cookbook and family memoir by Tessa Kiros, which contains some Greek classics like Pastitsio, and I decided that the addition of feta cheese would transform my shepherd's pie to something altogether more Mediterranean.

Heston Blumenthal has a great tip for enhancing the flavour of a meat stew: the addition of star anise. Somehow, this earthy spice tempers the slightly metallic flavour of red meat and lends a rich depth to a stew. After this had been added to the pot, a dollop of garlic sauce (made to accompany roast chicken a couple of day's previously) and some oregano, gave my shepherd's pie filling a wonderful aroma. (The sauce began in the usual way with some chopped onion, fried in olive oil, and a carrot, peeled and chopped.)

Another trick with a meat filling like this is to bake it in the oven for about an hour (this is a Jamie Oliver tip). Be careful it doesn't dry out. Baking concentrates the flavours even further. While the meat was in the oven, I parboiled some lovely waxy Charlotte potatoes. When the meat came out of the oven, I sprinkled crumbled feta over it and topped the whole thing off with sliced potatoes. Back in the oven to brown off the top for 20 minutes or so. We ate it with a sharp Sauvignon Blanc and very thin English asparagus, but in our heads and our stomachs, we were in Greece.

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