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Monday, February 11, 2013

Italian Shepherd's Pie

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There's this recipe I loved from the first time I made it. It's from a Rachael Ray cookbook given to us for our wedding. It's called "Italian Chicken Pot Pie from the Boot". It layered prepared polenta over top of a creamy chicken mixture. And it's a lovely recipe, but the more I made it, the more I wished it was something else. The polenta didn't do it for me as a stand-in for biscuit topping. It kept reminding me of mashed potato. Which means it's still yummy, and I do recommend the recipe, but to me, mashed potatoes layered on top of something equals Shepherd's Pie.

I love a good Shepherd's Pie -- or more accurately, a Cottage Pie, since I prefer beef to lamb. But tomato, tomahto. I have a great recipe for it, which I hope to share with you someday. Someday soon.
So anyway...
When I went home for the holidays I had this Italian Meatball soup at a friend's house and I liked it a lot, so I got a copy of the recipe. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew that I was going to turn it into Italian Shepherd's Pie and top it with creamy polenta. I could not rest until it was a thing.

So that's what I did. And it's wonderful! A lovely tomato-y beefy sauce, wrapped around veggies -- carrots, mushrooms, onions, green beans, savory meatballs (I used frozen, but you could make your own), smooth and creamy and filling polenta.
Yes. Please.

This is just what the doctor ordered for a chilly evening. Promise.

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Italian Shepherd's Pie

Ingredients:
1-2 Tbsp. oil
1 c. diced onion
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can green beans, drained
1/2 c. sliced mushrooms
3 c. beef broth or stock
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
salt & pepper to taste
bay leaf
1, 20 oz. pkg. prepared mini meatballs
cornstarch slurry (3 Tbsp. cornstarch + 3 Tbsp. cold water, whisked smooth)
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 c. polenta meal
3 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery, along with a pinch of salt and a shake of pepper. Saute until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and saute a minute or two more. Scoot everything away from the middle of the pan, and add tomato paste to the cleared area. Stir it around to heat it up for a minute, then stir it into the vegetables to coat evenly.  Pour in diced tomatoes, green beans, and beef stock. Add oregano, basil and bay leaf, along with the prepared meatballs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until carrots and celery are tender. Pour in cornstarch slurry and stir occasionally while the mixture thickens. If it doesn't thicken to your liking, feel free to add in more slurry (just use equal parts cornstarch and cold water). Stir in balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
 While the meatball mixture is simmering away, start on your polenta: Bring water to a boil over high heat. Add salt. Whisk in polenta meal a little at a time. Simmer, stirring frequently, until very thick, about 30 minutes. Stir in butter and polenta.
When both mixtures are ready, grease a 9x13" pan and pour in meatball mixture. Top with polenta. Serve immediately if you like your polenta softer. Let stand 10 minutes or so if you like it firmer.

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