A vegetarian version of the layered casserole we all grew up on! Hearty enough for everyone.
We are no longer under the illusion that summer will last forever. The temperatures have dropped, and so have lots of leaves! But right now, there seems to be just about every vegetable out there one could want, along with Autumn raspberries and strawberries!
We narrowly escaped a frost this week, and we’re still picking corn and tender herbs as well, although most of mine are quite leggy and beg to be taken in. My rosemary pots are safely secured on my sunporch, and my orchids have been moved from their summer perch on the lilacs in the back yard to spend the winter inn the sunny dining room’s south window.
Time to cook
Once the chill hits the air, you’ll probably find me in the kitchen cooking. As I write this it is 49 degrees outside, and I’m mulling cider and baking a casserole for Sunday dinner.
Casseroles were the name of the game when I was growing up, and Shepherd’s Pie was at the top of the list. Everyone in the family loved it. Technically, a shepherd’s pie is made with lamb, of course, so what we ate with ground beef was really a cottage pie. Mom made hers with layers of corn, beef and onions, and topped with mashed potatoes which she browned in the oven. It was filling, it was hearty, and it was inexpensive.
A slightly lighter version
It was also loaded with fat and carbs! This version still uses potatoes, but not as much of them, and the beef is swapped out with mushrooms and lentils, so everyone in the family can enjoy this. There’s still butter present, and a mash made of squash, so that texture is a constant. Also present is the corn that was always a layer in my mom’s.
You can use any type of mashed squash you prefer, butternut would work great here. Use your favorite mushrooms as well. I’ve used a mix here of shiitake and button, but whatever you can find, or love, will work fine. If you can’t find leeks, double up on the onions. I had blue and white potatoes so I used those, but all white is fine as well, just look for smaller ones that can layer easily. If you don’t want to use the dairy on top, sprinkle with a little nutritional yeast.
Vermont Shepherdess Pie
1/2 cup lentils
1 quart diced red kuri squash
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 leeks, diced
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 lb. mushrooms, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. sage leaves (2 tsp. dried)
3 ears of corn, about 2-3 cups
10-12 ounces of potatoes, thinly sliced
Parmesan cheese or vegan alternative to sprinkle, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a covered casserole.
Rinse the lentils and add to two cups of water. Bring to a boil and cook about 10 minutes. The lentils will be almost cooked (they will finish in the oven). You want about 1 cup of cooked lentils.
Peel and chop the red kuri squash. Place in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook just until mashable consistency.
While the squash is cooking, melt 1 tbsp. butter into 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet. Add the leeks, onion, and mushrooms and sauté until they are tender.
Add the garlic and sage and continue cooking another minute. Add the drained lentils – you should have about one cup. Salt and pepper to taste, mix this well, and set aside.
Once the squash is cooked, drain and mash with a little more butter, salt and pepper.
Pack the mashed squash in the bottom of the casserole.
Cut the kernels off the corn and spread in an even layer over the squash. You can also use frozen corn if the fresh is finished, any moment now.
Add the mushroom and onion mixture on top of this.
Slice the potatoes into thin slices and arrange on top of the casserole. If you are using different colors of potatoes, alternate the colors.
Dot with butter, cover the casserole, and place in the oven.
Cook for 45 minutes, then check. A paring knife inserted in the potatoes will meet no resistance.
Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan, and return to the oven, set now on broil, uncovered, for five to eight minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley if you like.
Shepherdess Pie Breakfast Patty
The next day, I took the leftovers, mushed and mixed them up, and added an egg. I used my trusty ice-cream scoop to form patties and fried them in a little olive oil. Topped with an egg, we had a lovely breakfast, but even without the egg, it is pretty delicious.
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