Best of Modern British Cookery
by Sarah Freeman
If you mention British food, it seems that one of the first things which comes to people's minds is cottage pie. However, there are cottage pies and cottage pies. The following is quite unlike any that you might buy and is so popular in my family that I made it at least once a week for many years. My only reservation about it so far as this book is concerned is that it is not wholly indigenous, since the filling owes more to Italian ragu Bolognese than to the British country tradition. Like ragu, it is made with wine and should be simmered very slowly for a long time: this may be a bore but ensures that it has the full, rich flavour which makes it distinctive. To give the flavour extra time to develop, it is an advantage if you cook the meat a day ahead. Once the pie is assembled, it similarly needs a fairly long baking time so that the potato on top is thoroughly browned and crisp: when ready, the top should have a crust almost like creme brulee.
Use good quality, lean beef: if you have the energy, trim off all the visible fat and mince it yourself. (Fat in the mince will melt and you will be left short of meat.) The potatoes should be floury.
Rather than serving vegetables at the same time as the pie, follow with rocket or any other green salad. Allow 3½ to 3¾ hours for simmering the meat and 40-45 minutes for baking the pie.
• 1 lb lean, finely minced beef
• 6 oz unsmoked streaky bacon
• 8 oz (3 medium) ripe tomatoes
• 1 stick celery
• 2 smallish carrots
• 2 medium onions
• 4 cloves garlic
• Handful parsley plus a few sprigs marjoram (enough for 1 tablespoonful together when chopped)
• 2 sprigs rosemary, or enough for 1 tablespoonful when chopped
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 tablespoonsful olive oil
• 2 oz butter
• 1/4 pint full-bodied dry red wine
• 2 teaspoonsful red wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoonful tomato puree
• 1 teaspoonful soft brown sugar
• 1½ Ib floury potatoes
• 2 oz medium Cheddar cheese
• 3 tablespoonsful milk
• 3 teaspoonsful Dijon mustard
• Large, preferably non-stick frying pan or wok with a lid
• Ovenproof dish about 7½ inches across or (if oval) the equivalent
If the beef is not already minced, trim and mince it finely. Cut off the rind and dice the bacon into 1/3-inch squares (use scissors). Peel and chop the tomatoes, discarding the cores. Trim the celery; pare off any discoloured streaks, wash and dry it, and slice it very finely. Peel and finely slice the carrots; peel and very finely chop the onions and garlic. Wash the herbs and shake or blot them dry. Trim the ends of the parsley and marjoram stems if they were bought and strip the leaves from the rosemary (grip the stem tightly between your thumb and forefinger and pull downwards: they will then come away together). Chop all three very finely.
Warm the oil and 2 oz of the butter in the frying pan or wok over very low heat and add the onions and bacon. Sweat for 5 minutes, turning from time to time. Add the celery, carrots, garlic, and herbs, including the bay leaves, and continue to simmer for 7-10 minutes or until the onion is soft and just beginning to change colour; turn often, especially towards the end. Add the beef, season lightly with salt and moderately with pepper, and turn, pressing the meat against the bottom of the pan, until all parts of it are pale brown and opaque. Pour in the wine, raise the heat to medium, and boil until most of it has cooked away. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the vinegar. Add the tomatoes, season with just a touch of salt and pepper, and continue to cook, pressing the flesh towards the bottom of the pan, for a further 5-7 minutes or until liquefied. Stir in the puree, 2 tablespoonsful of water, and the sugar. Cover and cook at a bare simmer for 3½ to 3¾ hours. Look at it every now and again to check that there is still liquid in the pan and add a little more water if necessary; if it is kept covered and at only a gentle simmer, however, the quantity of liquid will remain almost constant. At the end of the simmering time, raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring continuously, for 8-10 minutes or until the pan is dry (this is important, since if there is any juice left with the meat it will seep over the potato and the pie will be soggy). Transfer the meat to the ovenproof dish; if you are cooking it in advance, allow it to become cold, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator.
For the top, peel and cut the potatoes into moderate-sized pieces; just cover them with slightly salted water and boil them for 15-20 minutes or until tender. While they boil, grate the cheese. Drain the potatoes and add the cheese, milk, mustard, a moderate grinding of pepper, a little salt, and 1 oz of the butter. Mash thoroughly Spread the potato evenly over the meat and rough the top with a fork. If it is more convenient, the pie can now be left for several hours before baking. Heat the oven to 375° F, dot the top with the remaining 2 oz butter, and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is a rich golden brown.