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Veggie Cottage Pie in the Peak District | Sortachef

Veggie Cottage Pie in the Peak District

The tang of coal smoke hangs in the air as we heft our packs and make our way through the cobbled streets of Glossop. Out past the clusters of stone houses, all tumbled together, we rise to a low ridge that takes in views of glorious dales gleaming in hazy sunshine. The air up here is a tonic to our big-city lungs – fresh and crisp and autumnal with none of that weird smell we’d noticed down among the local shops. This is the edge of the Peak District, big country, wide open to the north and east. We fumble with keys at a small cottage and let ourselves in.

The coal shed at Annie's Cottage

The journey north had been our kind of grand adventure. By train from Victoria to Manchester to meet friend Dawn. Next day east to this small industrial town on a Friday afternoon’s escape. The harried commuters looked at us as if we were mad, heading out as we were into the cold November weekend with packs and wooly hats and hiking boots. They were all headed to warm pubs and sitting rooms with double bars of heat on, while we…. Well, the three of us were headed to Annie’s Cottage.

While Dawn tried to get the fire going, we explored. It turned out that Annie was a gatherer. Think English lass meets Yul Brynner. In her kitchen a variety of wines bubbled quietly: dandelion, elderberry, apple, quince.  Pale natural light from the mud room windows shone on all manner of crocks and carboys and gallon jars. Nettle beer, ginger beer, sauerkraut, great jars of pickles sat on top of low cabinets. Shelves crammed with all manner of wild berry preserves and jams and chutneys took up every wall. It was a kitchen with gobs of personality.

Did I mention yet that Annie’s Cottage was cold? I mean, really cold. Cold the way only a masonry house can be that hasn’t been heated in a while. Bone chilling cold.

Fire-maker Dawn waiting for the coal man

As evening set in, real concern about how cold it was took hold. The wee bit of coal left in the scuttle was not lighting well and the coal shed was empty. We went to bed that night wearing layers upon layers of clothes (and with wooly hats and gloves on as well!) and slept fitfully.

In the morning there was frost on the insides of the windows. There was ice in the bathtub. We scrounged a few more chunks of soft coal from the corners of the coal shed, but even right up near the fire it was cold enough to see your breath.

The stove in Annie’s Cottage was a big brick contraption that took up the center half of one long wall in the sitting room. From it came all of the heat as well as the hot water, and into it a little oven was set. Around midmorning, when the coal man dropped off a couple of bags of the finest coal I’ve ever seen, that stove became our friend. Once the first crumbles of coal took light, we spent the next several hours nursing the fire. Slowly, that brick behemoth rumbled into life.

The rest is history. We talked and talked and perused books from the bulging shelves, either lying on the tatty rug or lounged on the overstuffed chairs gathered at the fire, and eventually we thawed. At first, we dared not leave the fire, so hungry was it for coal. And then, in a burst of energy, we went out onto the dales, clambered over rough stone walls, filled our lungs with crisp cold air and squidged our way a few miles through the sodden fields. Out there on the backbone of land where the sky met the distant hills was the Pennine Way, which follows the watershed north through the Yorkshire Dales and up into Scotland. But we would never make it so far.

Back at Annie’s Cottage, we finally were able to remove our wooly hats, and we only wore our gloves in the kitchen. And we cooked a scrumptious meal of – what else? – Cottage Pie. Just perfect for a cold autumn day at Annie’s Cottage. Where, at long last, the fire roared and the place was warm and cozy.

Veggie Cottage Pie

Makes 4-6 servings, depending upon appetite

 

For the lentil filling:

4½ cups lentil stew, without the potatoes (click HERE for recipe)

2 Tablespoons butter

3 Tablespoons white flour

½ cup hot vegetable broth

¼ cup chopped parsley

 

For the mashed potato topping:

3 pounds potatoes, peeled, with water for boiling

4 Tablespoons butter

1½ cups milk

1½ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

 

Make the lentil stew: Cook lentil stew according to directions, leaving out the potatoes. (You can make this up to 3 days ahead. Reheat if necessary.) The amount needed for Cottage Pie is a little less than half of the Fresh for Autumn: Hearty Lentil Stew recipe. Have this simmering when you do the next step.

Make a gravy to thicken the lentils: In a small saucepan, melt 2 Tablespoons butter over medium heat, and add the flour to make a roux. Add hot broth a few tablespoons at a time, stirring to incorporate after each addition before adding more. When you have a smooth cream sauce base, add by small quantities a cup of the hot liquid from the lentil stew, stirring constantly. Now, add this ‘gravy’ to the hot lentil stew and mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the chopped parsley.

Cottage Pie in the oven, with meat version at back

Make mashed potatoes: Meanwhile, in a large pot put peeled potatoes in cold water to cover. If using big potatoes, cut them into 2” pieces. Bring to a boil and then set over medium heat with the lid propped open to avoid having the pot boil over. Boil for 25 minutes and then drain through a colander.

Heat the butter and milk in the potato pot and, when hot, put the potatoes back in. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and mash. I still do mashed potatoes the old-fashioned way, using a hefty potato masher, but any other method will do. If using a mixer, be sure not to overdo it or the potatoes will get gummy.

Assemble and bake: Preheat oven to 375°. Put the lentils into a 2-quart casserole. Make several patties with the mashed potatoes and float them on top of the lentils, and then fill in the gaps. As the lentils ooze to the surface, push them back down with bits of potato. Once you’ve stopped this action, spread on the rest of the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle on the cheese and, using a fork, work it into the top inch of potato. Finish the top as desired (smooth or wavy) and then grind on a bit of black pepper.

Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until the lentils bubble around the edges. Let the Cottage Pie cool for 15 minutes before serving. Bring to the table and dig in! 

Meat note: Cottage Pie is traditionally made in Britain with ground beef (or ‘mince’ if you’re English). Brown 1 pound of meat with 8 ounces each chopped onion and carrot, drain the fat off, and continue with the roux as above, using a can of beef broth to make the gravy. This is how my English mother-in-law used to make Cottage Pie, topped with mashed potatoes. Pretty darned good if you’re a meatatarian!

 

The Peak District near Glossop in Northern England

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At Woodfiredkitchen.com, Sortachef takes you on adventures in the kitchen and beyond, with tales to suit. Many of his offerings are woodfired - a flaming good recipe for pizza, bread, or something different. All recipes are original and tasty. Enjoy!
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