Recipe: parsnip/mushroom/sweet potato shepherd’s pie

I think a core skill in cooking, especially for those using fresh/seasonal/local ingredients, is learning how to adapt or invent recipes. It’s more efficient, cost-effective, and interesting to learn to read between the lines of recipes in order to understand what is needed to make them work, and what is optional or adaptable.
This “recipe” is an excellent example of this process, something I adapted heavily from several cookbooks to meet what we had on hand. It was fantastic as-made, but is widely adaptable to various ingredients as long as you follow the core needs. In this case, we had just harvested a large batch of over-wintered parsnips as well as nearly a pound of fresh shiitake mushrooms (last year’s logs are fruiting heavily at the moment), and wanted to feature those along with whatever else we had on hand. I don’t really expect anyone to make this exact version, but it demonstrates how easily one can adapt a basic recipe to make a unique and seasonal dish without worrying about most specific ingredients. Here’s roughly what we had on hand:
My final result is heavily adapted from the Shepherd’s Pie recipe  (p 178) in one of our favorite obscure cookbooks, “In a Vermont Kitchen“. The original calls for potatoes, onion, garlic, cheese, lamb, corn, and herbs. You’ll see we changed almost everything to use what we had on hand (for example, we’re out of storage potatoes but have lots of sweet potatoes left), but came out with a comparable result. We also added a biscuit topping from Moosewood New Classics (p. 292), as we usually do when making Shepherd’s Pie.

One specific note: this calls for roasted garlic, which adds a lot of time to this recipe. We pre-roast whole trays of garlic at a time, then squeeze the flesh into ice cube trays and freeze. These garlic “cubes” are about the equivalent of a full head, store very well in freezer bags and can be pulled out at a moment’s notice to add flavor to soups, sauces, and other recipes. I used one here to save time and bother.
Ingredients in italics were sourced from the farm.


1 head roasted garlic

1lb sweet potatoes
4T butter
1/2lb sausage (optional; leave out or use any desired meat)

2 cups chopped parsnips

1 cup chopped onion
few T minced fresh sage, thyme, oregano
2 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms

 salt and pepper to taste

Optional: 1/2 cup grated hard cheese (I meant to use our aged cheddar and completely forgot; with the biscuit topping I didn’t even notice until after we’d eaten).

2 cups flour

1/2t salt

1T baking powder
1/2t baking soda

6T melted butter

1 cup yogurt

Preheat oven to 350F.

Chop the sweet potatoes and boil until soft. Add the butter and roasted garlic, and mash until  thick and smooth, adding water or milk if needed. Layer these onto the bottom of a deep baking dish.

Meanwhile, crumble & saute the sausage, then layer on the potato mash. Saute the onions & parsnips in the sausage grease (or oil/butter if not using sausage) for 10 minutes or until reasonably tender, adding the chopped herbs in the last minute. Mix well and layer onto the sausage. Add some more butter to pan and saute mushrooms for 5 minutes or so, until they’re lightly browned and have absorbed the moisture, then layer onto the onion/parsnip mix. Add grated cheese if using.
Make the topping by mixing dry & wet ingredients separately, then quickly combining into a soft batter. Drop the batter by large spoonfuls onto the top of the layered ingredients, making a reasonable cover. Immediately place in the hot oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Serve with a wide spoon that can scoop out all layers at once.
Here’s the final result: a rich, delicious layering of simple ingredients that work well together. No fancy flavorings or methods needed, just a bit of time and the willingness to improvise.

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