This winter, I’ve been trying to combat the winter blues by getting out of the house as much as possible. Bar trivia, a bowling league, weekly game night with friends, and a regular date night with Joe have kept me very busy. One thing that kept me home, however, was hosting my third all-day marathon of the Lord of the Rings extended edition films for my friends. The tradition started as an excuse for me to make and eat the food I dreamed of while watching the movies, and every year I do a little bit more than the year before. This year, I expanded the viewing so that I had the movie playing in two separate rooms of the house simultaneously and, in addition to the traditional six Hobbit meals, I decided to make a second entrée for dinner. I thought I must be a little crazy to attempt such a thing, but with so many people in the house the pot roast didn’t quite stretch far enough and besides, some people might want a vegetarian main.
“And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them).” – From Concerning Hobbits, The Lord of the Rings p11
When he was still a boy, Frodo earned a reputation with Farmer Maggot as a rascal and a mushroom-thief. In honor of his fondness for fungi, I decided to go with a wild mushroom shepherd’s pie that I adapted from Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perlman. I’ve never made a recipe by her that I didn’t like, but what really sold the recipe for me was that it included directions to make it ahead and reheat it – an absolute necessity when planning such a large event. It was delicious and reheated well as leftovers with a teensy bit of Aleppo pepper sprinkled on the top. I even had one person – an enthusiastic carnivore – tell me he liked it better than the pot roast!
“Harvesting Maggots” by Henning Janssen
Hobbit’s Cottage Pie
1/2 cup (15g) dried mushrooms, such as shiitake (which I used), porcini, or a mix of mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 lb fresh crimini mushrooms, in chunks (Deb also suggests a mix of shiitake, elephant ear, and cremini)
2 Tbsp dry red wine or dry sherry
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup vegetable stock (or beef stock)
1 3/4-2lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, in chunks
1 tsp kosher salt
ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream (Deb suggests sour cream or creme fraiche)
2/3 c milk or buttermilk
to garnish (optional):
Aleppo pepper flakes
smoked or regular paprika
1 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1) Prepare the Mushrooms: In a small bowl, combine the dried mushrooms and boiling hot water. Set aside for 30 minutes (while you continue with the other steps), then drain, reserving the soaking water, and chop the rehydrated mushrooms into small bits. If the soaking water has any sand or grit at the bottom, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer.
2) Meanwhile, Prepare the Lid: Place the potatoes in a medium pot, and cover them with a couple inches of salted water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are easily pieced in the center with a knife or skewer. Drain, and either rice the potatoes into a large bowl, or place them in the bottom of a large bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. Add the butter, salt, and pepper and stir. The heat from the potatoes should melt the butter. Added the cream and the milk and stir to combine – or use a mixer as I did. Taste, and adjust the seasonings if needed.
Heat oven to 400 degrees
3) Cook the Vegetables: In a large pan (4 qt, or an 11-inch deep skillet), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, salt, and pepper, and sauté until the vegetables begin to color, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Add fresh mushrooms, salt, and pepper, increase the heat to high, and cook the mushrooms until they brown and soften, releasing their juices, 5-10 minutes. Add the wine and scrape up any stuck bits. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the rehydrated mushrooms and their liquid, plus the stock. Season again if needed and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are coated in a thick sauce.
4) Bake the Pie: If your skillet is oven-safe, you can bake the pie in it. If not, transfer the mixture to a 3qt baking dish. Scoop the potatoes in large spoonfuls all over the top of the mushrooms, then use the back of your spoon to spread them smooth all the way to the edges, forming a seal.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly browned on top. Garnish with a dusting of Aleppo pepper or paprika and/or parsley. Scoop and serve.
Do Ahead Tip: Deb says this will keep 5 days in the fridge and longer in the freezer. Her instructions said to rewarm it in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, but I found this was not enough time to heat it up and it actually took about 40 minutes with me repeatedly taking it out to check on it. Next time, I will wait at least 30-35 minutes before taking it out to check.
“They watched the pale rings of light round his lanterns as they dwindled into the foggy night. Suddenly Frodo laughed: from the covered basket he held, the scent of mushrooms was rising.” – From A Short Cut to Mushrooms, The Lord of the Rings p 107