As I mentioned last week, not every blog post automatically segues into a recipe smoothly. So I put the recipe and wine pairing in a separate post this week. This will happen from time to time, depending on the subject I’m writing about.
Thanksgiving seems like a distant memory now, although it was only two weeks ago. This year, two of our guests were vegetarians, and they volunteered to make a lentil-mushroom shepherd’s pie as a non-meat entrée. It was really tasty. The online recipe they used was simple, but you know me – I had to make some changes. The original recipe was vegan. I kept it vegan, too. But instead of the recipe’s dairy substitutes for the milk and butter, I used olive oil and garlic in the mashed potatoes, plus a little vegetable stock to thin them out. They have a slightly green color to them from the olive oil, but they taste terrific.
I also like to reduce boxed vegetable stock – preferably Kitchen Basics unsalted – as a first step. Then, I take some of the reduced stock and add red wine and reduce it again. The pie doesn’t have to stay long in the oven, and you want to cook the wine enough to enrich the base. Cooking ahead, or while you’re cooking the onions and mushrooms, gives a much richer flavor.
This recipe uses a lot of pans, so be prepared. You cook the lentils in one pot, vegetable stock and wine in another, boil potatoes in a third, and saute mushrooms, garlic, and onions in yet a fourth pot. But you can cook the lentils ahead, and make the mashed potatoes ahead too, and heat them in the microwave. Everything should be hot when it goes in the oven, you’re basically just browning the top of the potatoes anyway. The mushroom and lentil base can be made ahead, too. But I think it tastes better if you make the base right before assembly. Leftover lentils tend to fall apart more, and I like them to keep their shape.
A Rhône red is always good with mushrooms, and this has plenty of mushrooms in it. So try Château de Clapier Calligrappe red ($12). It’s medium-bodied, but has the right earthiness for mushrooms and lentils. Use some in the recipe, too.
7 cups vegetable stock (preferably Kitchen Basics unsalted), from two quart boxes
1 cup dry red wine
1-1/4 cup dried lentils, rinsed
1 large onion, cut into large dice
4 garlic cloves, peeled – mince two and thinly slice the other two
1 pound button or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
4 large russet potatoes
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
2 – 3 tablespoons cornstarch
Nonstick cooking spray
Start by bringing six cups of vegetable stock to a boil over high heat. (Save the last cup of unreduced stock to use in the mashed potatoes and to dissolve the cornstarch.) Continue to boil, uncovered, until the stock reduces to four cups. Measure out two cups of the stock, put in a saucepan, and add about 2/3 cup of ice to cool it down a bit (or ½ cup chilled water). Stir in the lentils, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and the red pepper flakes. (The lentils cook more evenly if they’re not started in boiling liquid.) Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 40 minutes, stirring a few times during cooking. Add water if you need to toward the end, but after 40 minutes the lentils should be soft and the liquid nearly all absorbed. If not, cook for a few more minutes. Then drain the lentils and set them aside.
Mix the remaining two cups of reduced stock with 1 cup of wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce again until the mixture measures 1-1/4 cups, about 15 minutes. (You can also do this in an uncovered 4-cup measuring cup in the microwave if you’re running out of burners.)
While the lentils are cooking, put the 1/3 cup olive oil and sliced garlic in a small saucepan. Set the pan over medium-low heat, until the garlic slices start to color. Pour the oil in garlic in a small heatproof bowl and set aside.
While the lentils and the oil and garlic are cooking, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Cover the potato pieces with water in a large saucepan, add a teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer until the potatoes are done, then drain them and put them back in the hot pot you boiled them in. Sitting in the pot will dry them off a little. Add the oil and garlic mixture, and mash using a potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little of the unreduced vegetable stock if necessary to make a thick mashed potato mixture. Put into a microwave-safe container and set aside.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet, add the onion, and cook until the onion is soft and just beginning to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and some pepper. Cover the pan and cook for 3 minutes or so. The mushrooms should have released some liquid. Uncover the pan and continue to cook until the mushrooms start to brown. Add the minced garlic and stir for a minute, until you can smell the garlic but it isn’t browned. Add the 1-1/4 cups of reduced stock/wine, the tomato paste, and the soy sauce and bring to a boil. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with a quarter cup of unreduced stock. Drizzle the cornstarch mixture into the mushroom mixture, and stir until it all boils and thickens. Stir in the lentils. At this point, the mixture should be very thick. If it’s not, dissolve another tablespoon of cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of water or stock and add it in. Cook for a couple of minutes to thicken. Taste for salt and pepper – it should be well-seasoned.
Spray a 9 or 10-inch glass pie plate with nonstick cooking spray, then put the mushroom mixture in the dish. Heat the potatoes in the microwave until hot, then spread on top of the mushrooms and lentils. Put the dish on a baking sheet, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the potatoes are just starting to brown. Let the pie cool for 5 minutes, then serve.