Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

This is the second casserole I made from the January 2010 Vegetarian Times. This one I made to take to a meeting/party, and so I doubled it. One thing I was reminded of is the magic of baking something like this, which changes and improves the flavor — I tasted the individual components as I went, and found that I was not that impressed. In the end, people said they liked it and it did taste pretty good. I should note that I omitted the beans, mainly because I forgot to prep some (I do beans from dried) and didn’t have time to do it when I was actually making the casserole. I should also note that I didn’t have any wine on hand, so I used vegetable broth. Lastly, I subbed dried herbs for fresh, which might also have affected the final flavor. I also think that the bottom filling needs something else — somehow the lovely flavor of the leeks that I expected didn’t come through. Mine were about a week old by the time I used them, but they seemed fine, so I’m not sure if that’s the problem or if it’s in the combination of flavors (maybe increase the leeks and decrease the onions?). Overall I didn’t dislike this, but I’m not sure I’ll make it again. It will probably depend on whether I come up with any good ideas for modifying it and improving the flavor. (Ideas?) Regardless, I think this is definitely a side dish and not a meal in and of itself, whether or not you include the beans.

As I made this recipe, it struck me why people say that they can’t cook, even when they follow the recipe as written. Some recipes just aren’t written that well, and this was one of them. The proportions seemed a bit off (made me glad I’d grabbed an extra sweet potato just for the heck of it) — as written, you wouldn’t have very much sweet potato topping to work with. In the magazine, the recipe calls for “1 medium sweet potato (1/4 lb).” I found that the smallest ones at my grocery store were 1/2″ lb., so I’m guessing that the author didn’t actually weigh the potato, but perhaps just guessed after the fact. This recipe also didn’t include an instruction to preheat the oven at the start, which I’m sure will cause problems for some cooks.

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie
Vegetarian Times, January 2010
(Modified to double the topping.)

Serves 6

Sweet Potato Topping
at least 1/2 lb of sweet potato, peeled and diced (more would not be out of place)
1/2 C milk
2 T margarine or butter
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg

1 1/2 t veg oil
1 medium onion, chopped (~1 C)
1 leek, white part thinly sliced  (~1 C) (I also used the light green part, not sure how you are supposed to get 1 cup otherwise)
2 turnips, diced (~1 C) (I used frozen and it seemed just fine)
1 carrot, diced (~1/2 C)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 spring fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 C white wine or water (I used veg broth)
1 15oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 C veg broth
3 T shredded Parmesan, optional (I skipped this, mostly because I didn’t have enough)

Preheat oven to 375 if baking fresh.

To make sweet potato topping: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add sweet potato, cover, and boil 10 minutes or until tender. Drain and return to pot. Mash with milk, margarine/butter, cinnamon and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To make filling: Heat oil in large skillet over med heat. Add onion and leek, and saute 5 to 6 minutes, or until leek is soft. Add turnips, carrot, thyme and rosemary; cook 2 to 3 minutes more, or until carrot begins to soften.

Add wine, and cook 30 seconds to deglaze pan. Stir in beans and broth. Cover, and simmer 10 minutes., or until carrots and turnips are soft. (Personally, I wouldn’t cook it this long for fear of having a whole thing made of mush). Season with salt and pepper.

Remove thyme sprigs from filling and discard. Pour filling into 2 or 3 quart casserole dish. Spread sweet potato topping over filling and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Place casserole on baking sheet and bake 30 minutes if fresh; if frozen, cover casserole and bake 60-75 minutes, removing cover during last 10 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.