Blowin’ In: Just Add Daffodils
By Susan Mangan
“My heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
(I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth)
If you are seeking a new twist on traditional Easter favorites for your spring feast, you may want to prepare lamb in the guise of a delicious Shepherd’s Pie. Serve with a side of barely steamed stalks of asparagus. Drizzle this fleeting, herbaceous delicacy lightly with fresh lemon juice, grassy extra virgin olive oil, fine white balsamic vinegar, and the gentlest sprinkle of sea salt.
Follow with a delightful cheese board featuring an array of rich KerryGold cheese and slices of Irish brown bread. Finish the meal with plump berries, chocolate bunnies, and Easter is served.
Shepherd’s Pie takes a bit of time and care, particularly my long-winded, but well-wrought rendition; however, your glass of red wine will thank you heartily. Brown equal parts of grass-fed ground beef, ground lamb, and lamb fillets cut into stew sized cubes.
Please sauté the meat in a smattering of olive oil and a bit of Irish butter for added richness. As the meat browns, sprinkle it with dried tarragon, Herb de Provence, sea salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Set aside.
Wash and peel carrots, parsnips, and perhaps a firm Bosc pear. Cut the prepared produce into uniformly sized chunks with an eye toward your future baking dish; trust your instincts: large casserole dishes equal larger chunks, smaller gratin pans, equal smaller chunks.
The veg will reduce in size upon roasting, so do not dice to the point of oblivion. Please be thoughtful. Coat the vegetable and fruit mixture with olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey, more Herb de Provence, sea salt, and pepper.
Perhaps lay a sprig of fresh rosemary or a cluster of sage atop the vegetables and fruit for another layer of flavor. Succulent Shepherd’s Pie is all about this gentle layering of flavors. Set to roast slowly at 350 degrees. Be mindful that the mixture browns to a delicate caramel color and does not burn.
While the meat is resting and the veg is roasting, dice up a shallot, cut a few stalks of fresh fennel, slice delicate circlets of well-washed leeks, though rustic in nature, the pie will not appreciate any sand or soil in the mix. Gently sauté the mixture in a large, sturdy pan liberally dosed with olive oil and a generous knob of KerryGold butter.
Later, when the vegetables have softened, add a clove or two of crushed and finely diced garlic (the pie does not enjoy the bitterness of burnt garlic). Once the mixture is indeed soft, add one can of craft hard cider to the pan and reduce by half.
When you can no longer smell the tang of alcohol, you are ready to add good quality chicken stock to the pan. For an alcohol-free version, add a half-cup of apple cider, or leave the broth as is.
Bear in mind that the alcohol does burn off, leaving behind only the sweet taste of the hard cider. Let simmer so the flavors meld.
Add more dried herbs. Sprinkle with sea salt, only to taste, and more cracked pepper. For beauty as well as flavor, float fresh leaves of thyme and sage atop the pool of goodness.
As the mixture cooks, taste. What do you need? I often add more honey, Dijon mustard, or a few extra dollops of fine butter. Richness will result.
While you are patiently waiting for alchemy to occur among the broth and base vegetables, turn your attention to potatoes and cream. Pour a cup or two of fresh organic cream into a small saucepot. Add fresh leaves of your favorite herb: bay, sage, tarragon, thyme, or rosemary.
Let the cream gently warm over a very low heat. Before the liquid begins to simmer, take it off the burner and let the herbs infuse with the warmth of the cream.
Peel and wash a large bag of potatoes. Yukon Gold or fluffy Russet will suffice. Set to boil in salted water. Once the potatoes are soft, drain well.
Now it is time to mash the still hot potatoes. Add a liberal amount of KerryGold butter, half a log of goat’s cheese, a few sprinkles of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, cracked pepper, sea salt, and that delicious herb infused cream to the pot.
Mash to your desired consistency. Always taste and re-season as necessary. Set the potatoes aside.
Turn back to the now caramelized roasted vegetables. Mix with the meat mixture and toss it all into the large pan filled with the simmering broth and base vegetables. Sprinkle with Worcestershire sauce. Taste, then season with more herbs, pepper, salt, honey, etc.
Pile the whole lot into a casserole pan, or for a bit of flair, individual gratin dishes. Top with the warm mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a bit of dried Herb de Provence.
Bake at 350 degrees, until the potatoes are golden and the succulent mixture is attempting to bubble over with anticipation. Prior to placing in the oven, lay the baking dish(es) on a large cookie tin to catch any overexcited juice that may escape.
Serve with red wine, hard cider, or a blushing glass of Rose. Blanket a table in your favorite sun-filled room with a white Irish linen tablecloth and a simple bouquet of just picked daffodils. Tuck into this Easter feast and celebrate the arrival of spring.
For vegan or vegetarian modifications regarding this recipe, please contact Susan at email@example.com. Additional note, the meat and vegetable mixture can be prepared a day ahead. Simply bring the mixture to room temperature or heat lightly in a large pan. Be sure to prepare the potatoes just prior to baking for freshness.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.