My grandmother lived in England during the Second World War and through food rationing that continued into the 1950s, long after the war had ended. She also had four children in that decade or thereabouts, so it’s perhaps completely unsurprising that she could make a meal out of seemingly nothing, never wasted a damn thing in her own kitchen and apparently only seemed to write down recipes that weren’t her own.
Which means that although I vividly remember that her Shepherd’s Pie recipe was different to everyone else’s, I’m not exactly sure why that was true. Could have been one little twist, or it could have been a whole host of sneaky secret ingredients. But! The one trick of hers that somehow sunk its way into my pre-teen brain was that she always threw a parsnip or two into the mashed potato topping.
The earthy sweetness and complexity of parsnips was completely delicious and set her Shepherd’s Pie apart in my mind and that’s what I’ve tried to replicate here in my own AIP and nightshade free take on the classic recipe. Here, I’ve used a blend of starchier, white sweet potatoes and parsnips.
Not only is it completely delicious and comfort-food-worthy, the boost of flavor from the parsnips help this dish stand on its own, rather than having a white sweet potato only topping that, to me, usually just reminds me that I’m missing out on real spuds.
Shepherd’s Pie is a pretty forgiving and easily adapted recipe, so other than the topping, there’s not much to miss out on in the traditional versions of the recipe vs the nightshade free adaptation. Since I couldn’t use the usual tomato paste (and sometimes Worcestershire sauce, depending on different regional variations and grandmas!), I boosted umami with a combination of red wine vinegar and a splash of coconut aminos.
If you want to make this totally coconut product free, you can easily omit the coconut aminos or add a teaspoon or so of gluten free fish sauce instead.
You can whip up this Shepherd’s Pie in any casserole or baking dish you like, but I like to brown the beef, cook the veggies and bake the whole thing then serve it at the table in the same 12 inch cast iron skillet. Fewer dishes is winning, right?
The trick I use here to thicken up the gravy and give the Shepherd’s Pie filling a nice, soft (and totally non-watery!) texture without needing to use flours is pretty simple. But sneaky! I’ll make up the mashed vegetable topping, then blend some of that into the beef broth that gets added to the browned meat mixture before baking. Sounds weird, makes total sense once you’ve tried it. I use the same immersion blender I already dirtied up making the mash because, again, why make more mess than you need to?
Yes, an immersion blender is the easiest, least messy way to make up the Shepherd’s Pie topping. I drain the vegetables, let them cool, then whizz them up in the same saucepan I used to boil them. It makes for a smooth but not over processed mash like the food processor can give you. I was skeptical the first time I tried this method out, but it works. (If you can’t find white sweet potatoes where you live, I think a scaled up version of my Herbed Whipped Parsnips would work nicely here!)
To finish off the Shepherd’s Pie with a little extra color, I popped it under the broiler. This is totally optional and you’ll want to watch it carefully if you do so, because the natural sugars in the vegetables will go from browned to burned very quickly!
I honestly have a love hate relationship with my broiler. I was about 0.0002 seconds away from burning this bad boy because it runs so freaking hot. In the same vein, remind me to tell you the story of how I ruined a perfectly good oven while working on my cookbook. It involved crisping up some chicken, the aforementioned broiler and a whole mess of on-fire chicken skin. Yup, I burn stuff, too, especially when I’m stressed out my mind…
- 1 ½ lbs / 680 g white sweet potato
- 1 lb / 454 g parsnips
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml avocado oil
- 1 tbsp / 15 ml beef broth
- 1 tsp / 5g fine sea salt
- 1 tbsp / 15 ml avocado oil
- 1 ½ lbs / 680 g ground lamb or beef
- 1 tsp / 5 g fine sea salt
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ lb / 225 g carrots (about 3 medium), finely grated
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp / 15 ml coconut aminos (see notes)
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 ½ cups / 360 ml beef broth
- 1 cup / 110 g riced cauliflower
- BOIL: Peel the white sweet potatoes and chop them into 1 inch / 2.5 cm slices, then in half to make even-ish sized chunks. Peel the parsnips and slice them thinly. If necessary to make even sized slices, cut the thicker ends of the parsnips in half before slicing. If your parsnips are especially large, cut the thicker ends into quarters, then cut out and discard the woody inner cores before slicing. Add both the sweet potato and parsnip to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer and cook until the vegetables are fork tender, about 15 minutes or so.
- MASH: Drain the vegetables. Return them to the saucepan and let them sit for a few minutes to cool slightly and release steam. This helps create a mash that isn't gummy. Add the oil, broth and sea salt, then use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables until smooth. Set aside for later.
- BROWN: While the vegetables for the topping are cooking, brown the meat. Preheat a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the avocado oil and, when hot, add about half of the lamb or beef, along with half of the salt. Cook until browned on both sides, turning a few times and breaking up with the back of a spoon or spatula as it cooks. Transfer the browned meat to a bowl, using a slotted spoon to leave the fat behind in the pan, then repeat with the rest of the meat and remaining salt. Transfer the cooked beef to the bowl and reserve for later.
- SOFTEN: Pour off any excess fat or liquid from the meat into a heat proof dish, leaving behind just enough fat to coat the skillet. (If you like, add a tablespoon or so of the drippings to the mash). Reduce the heat and add the onions and garlic to the skillet. Cook, stirring a few times, until translucent, about 5 minutes or so. Add the grated carrots, browned meat, red wine vinegar, coconut aminos, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf to the skillet and stir to combine.
- THICKEN: Preheat the oven to 400 F / 205 C. Add the broth to a high sided measuring jug or similar. Add 6 tablespoons of the mashed vegetable mixture and use the immersion blender from earlier to blend together smoothly. Add the thickened broth to the skillet and cook until it reduces by about half, 3 or 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer it to a trivet.
- BAKE: Remove and discard the bay leaf. Add the riced cauliflower and stir it through the meat mixture evenly. Pat the meat layer down with a spatula so that it's level. Spoon the remaining mashed vegetables on top of the meat filling, layering it on top evenly and fluffing up with a fork to give a rustic, swirled texture. Place the skillet on a baking sheet and into the oven. Bake until heated through and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
- BROIL: If you like, you can brown the top additionally by placing it under a preheated broiler: make sure to watch it carefully, as the natural sugars in the vegetables can go from browned to burned very quickly! Once browned, let the Shepherd's Pie sit for a few minutes before serving.
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