This recipe for shepherd’s pie, adapted from Darina Allen, looks to parsnips to round out the topping.Credit Photo: Karsten Moran for The New York Times.
In the last surge of winter, when hearty braised meats simmer away in the kitchen, as they have for months, and the spring’s bounty still seems weeks away, fresh, seasonal vegetables — and time in the garden — can seem like a distant memory. But they don’t have to be.
It’s a point the chef, educator and food activist Darina Allen, who has been called the Julia Child of Ireland, makes in her new cookbook, “Grow Cook Nourish: A Kitchen Garden Companion in 500 Recipes.” All of Ms. Allen’s cookbooks are full of detailed culinary, historic and agricultural information, and her latest, an impressively weighty treasure, is no exception.
She is the proprietor, along with her brother the chef Rory O’Connell, of Ballymaloe Cookery School, on an organic farm in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland. Its centerpiece is a giant greenhouse, and, on the first day of class, students plant a seed. So basic is this lesson that it takes place before students ever set foot in the kitchen. The first recipe they are given is one for compost.
In keeping with that approach, the cookbook’s premise is that we can all grow something — herbs in pots on the balcony, a tomato plant in a bucket — and that doing so will teach us to become better cooks, more in tune with nature’s ways.
One recipe that caught my eye features parsnips, a favorite root vegetable, mashed with potatoes as topping for an unusual shepherd’s pie. And, instead of minced lamb or beef, the filling is made with duck. It was originally devised as a way to use leftover roast duck and gravy, the meat pulled from the carcass to make an irresistibly homey dish.
I had no meaty duck leftovers, but it sounded so delicious that I went out and bought a few duck legs and braised them with wine and aromatic vegetables. Then I pulled the meat from the bones, chopped it and simmered it in a quick gravy for a rich and delicious filling. Topped with the earthy blend of fragrant mashed parsnip and potato, and baked until bubbly and browned, it may be the best shepherd’s pie I have ever eaten. I highly recommend it.
But to be true to the spirit of the recipe, you should feel free to replace the duck with other combinations of leftover braised meats, vegetables or mushrooms. And if some of the ingredients are homegrown, so much the better.
Recipe: Darina’s Shepherd’s Pie
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