Inverted Shepherd’s Pie

Or something. Sorry, that’s the closest thing I could come to for a “title” of this dinner. It’s delicious, though? I mean, in a sense, it’s very similar to shepherd’s pie… minus the potatoes, plus some polenta, minus a few veggies, plus a few veggies, served from the stove-top, not baked… it works, I think. In any case, it tastes delicious. It actually reminds me nearly as much of my grandma’s classic creation: hamburger gravy. It sounds kind of gross, to strangers anyways, and actually is ground beef over potatoes (pretty similar to shepherd’s pie as well!), but it was a midwestern classic in a too-many-children household. Ground beef, sautéed with onions, tossed with flour and milk, served over creamy mashed potatoes and corn- it’s definitely comfort food. And no one makes it as well as my grandma, because that’s the kind of food that has to be served by an older relative. Kind of like Bisquick pancakes, some things are just better coming out of grandma’s kitchen. Not to be limited by flour and water, my grandma actually has a great variety of things she loves to cook, and we eat all of it heartily and happily. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her make polenta, though, so from here we diverge.

I think it’s probably obvious now that I am loving polenta. It’s creamy, it’s warm, it’s got just enough flavor to really amplify its corresponding ingredients (rather than just sitting there mashed on the plate), and it’s easy to prepare. I bought probably 2 cups a month or two ago, and it’s gone now, which is saying something for me. Usually I buy bulk grains and use them slowly, in a random pattern, until they’re finally exhausted months later. I suppose I just tire of the same thing too many times in a row. Polenta, though; it’s working for me right now. I guess I need to buy more.

But beyond the polenta, the ground beef in this recipe is really a great accompaniment. With some diced spring vegetables, it’s hearty yet flavorful and fresh. It feels awkward preparing dishes with ground beef, I realized as I thought of what I wanted to do with it besides make a hamburger. It always looks a bit unappetizing in its plain form, and it’s hard not to smother it in sauce and call it a day. Ground beef always seems to be a component of a dish, rather than a main ingredient (excusing said burger). It really doesn’t need too much though, I believe. A few veggies serve the purpose of diversity on the palate, and a hearty starch creates immediate comfort food, regardless of the recipe. Don’t let the pictures deceive you; this tastes more than what it looks.

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Inverted Shepherd’s Pie (I guess)

Serves 4

1 cup polenta

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup milk

2 tbsp. butter

1 lb. grass-fed ground beef

4 spring carrots, diced

4 radishes, sliced into slivers

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. thyme

1/4 tsp. dried red chili flake

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp. corn starch

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp. soy sauce

First, prepare the polenta. Bring 3 cups of stock and 1 cup milk, whisked, to a boil. Once boiling, add the polenta to the pot while whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until the polenta is suspended in the liquid, ever so slightly thickened. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 30-45 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Whisk every few minutes initially, then stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. As noted before, the polenta may be “done” a bit earlier, but cooking longer yields deeper flavor. Once cooked, add 2 tbsp. of butter, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir into the polenta. Keep covered and set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the carrots and onions until they’re just softened and the onions are translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add the radishes and stir. Add the ground beef to the pan and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, chili flake, and salt and pepper to taste and stir. In a mason jar, add the corn starch, 1/2 cup of stock, and soy sauce. Shake to combine. (Alternatively, whisk in a bowl). Pour the thickened stock over the meat and vegetables and bring to a boil. Let the stock reduce until thick and adherent to the meat and veggies. Remove from the heat.

Plate a serving of polenta and top with the meat and vegetable mixture. Something about carrots and radishes makes it feel French to me somehow, with an obvious Italian (polenta) influence. Maybe it’s just European. Maybe it’s a mish-mash. Either way: it’s good.


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