Dish off the Block: A St Patty’s Day special

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 5:45pm

St. Patty’s Day is this Sunday! Pour yourself some green beer, do an Irish jig in celebration. Sláinte!

I bet you thought I would be serving up some corned beef and cabbage for this column, right? Nope! Did you know that corned beef and cabbage is not really an authentic Irish dish? It was popularized by Irish-American immigrants in New York City in the 1800s, and was actually first made popular by the Jewish community. Butchers salted tough brisket meat to tenderize it and then stewed it with cabbage.

Soooo, I settled on something much more traditional for my Irish feast — Shepherd’s Pie. I know what you’re thinking: “Yummy. My mom made that dish with ground hamburger, green beans, and mashed potatoes…” Technically, that was cottage pie. Shepherd’s Pie, as the name suggests, is made with lamb, not beef. The term shepherd’s pie here in America has come to mean any meat ragu topped with potatoes, but don’t be fooled. Check out my rendition for this classic dish made with lamb — the ultimate comfort food.

Shepherd’s Pie

The lamb ragu:

2 tbs. olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

8 cloves garlic, chopped

4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into ½” dice (about 2 cups)

2 lbs. ground lamb (or 80/20 ground beef for ‘cottage pie’)

2 tbs. fresh rosemary leaves, stemmed and chopped

12 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen string

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1/2 cup red wine

1/4 cup flour

1 1/2 cups beef stock

One 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes

1 tbs. tomato paste

2 tbs. brown sugar

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet with high sides. Sauté onion, garlic, and carrots until fragrant and carrots are tender when pierced with a fork. Add ground lamb, rosemary, and thyme to the pan. Cook, breaking the lamb up into small pieces, until cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Pour off any excess fat from the mixture.

Add cinnamon, basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and wine. Cook for 5 minutes until most of the liquid has cooked off. Add flour and cook for 2 more minutes. Gradually add beef stock, stirring and scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and brown sugar. Let cook for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently, until a rich thick sauce forms. Turn off the heat.

Place the lamb mixture in a 9” x 13” baking dish (or you can leave it in the skillet if it’s oven-proof ).

While you are making the lamb ragu, place the potatoes and onions in a large metal stock pot and cover with cold water. Place on the stove over medium high heat and let cook until the potatoes are fork tender, stirring occasionally while cooking. (You can also use leftover mashed potatoes for this dish.)

The mashed potatoes:

4 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks (all approx. the same size — about 3 to 5 inches squareish)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 stick cold butter

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

3/4 - 1 1/2 cups milk

1 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese

Chopped parsley for garnish

Drain the potatoes in a colander and return the hot potatoes/onions to the metal pot. Add the butter, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the milk. Using an electric mixer, whip the potatoes on high until they are smooth, gradually adding more milk as needed until they are smooth and creamy. Note, you may not use all of the milk or need an extra splash depending on the starchiness of the potatoes. I recommend tasting and testing frequently to make sure they are the perfect consistency. Test for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Layer the potatoes on top of the ragu and cover with the shredded cheese.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place in the oven and cook for 20 to 30 minutes until bubbly and the cheese has melted. Place under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to lightly brown the cheese. Serve hearty wedges garnished with parsley. Devour!

Pamela Gelsomini is a passionate cook and foodie who grew up spending every summer on Block Island. Gelsomini retired a year ago from that business and launched a food and lifestyle blog, ‘Dish off the Block,’ which features food that is inspired by local and international flavors... and of course Block Island fare. Visit her blog at