Cottage Pie

The weather hasn’t entirely turned (yet!) but in my house it doesn’t need to be cold for this dish to arrive on the table. It is one of my all time favourites, and carries with it more memories of family dinner that I could probably completely remember. It is the smooth richness of the meat and sauce, the nod to the vegetables and the deep silk mashed potato on top, browned and crispy just calling out to be eaten. Like lasagne I make a ragu sauce the day before, then put it all together in the dish for the oven. I think it tastes better that way, but you can put it on the hob and cook it down much more quickly. This feeds six.


For the topping:

  • 1kg  potatoes (preferably Desiree) peeled and chopped
  • 75gm/2.5oz butter
  • 2 egg yokes
  • Parmesan for grating

The Ragù:

  • 24 oz (700 g) minced beef
  • 2 x 100g packs pancetta or six slices of smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot finely chopped
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 level tablespoons tomato purée
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 200ml red wine
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • handful fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 sprig rosemary needles chopped
  • 300ml beef stock


  1. Pre heat the oven to gas mark 1, 275°F (140°C).
  2. This works overnight but you can do it on the hob all at once: take a casserole dish, and fry the onion and carrot until soft, about ten minutes. Stir it occasionally to prevent it burning. Add the chopped bacon and minced cloves of garlic and keep cooking for another five minutes, then  put this mixture onto a plate for later.
  3. Turn the heat up to the highest point and add the beef and brown the lot, then put the fried onion mixture into the meat and give it a good stir. Add tomatoes, the 2 tablespoons of puree, wine, beef stock, herbs, Worcestershire sauce  and seasoning. Stir the lot again and let it bubble to its simmering point.
  4. Give it another good stir and shove in the oven – centre shelf – for about 4 hours giving a good stir every so often. If you are making it on the hob let it simmer away until reduced it will be much faster than in the oven. Make sure it doesn’t go too dry but most of the liquid should go, leaving  a nice, rich concentrated sauce. Stir. Allow to cool and get ready to assemble.
  5. Turn the oven up to 190c/375f/Gas 5.
  6. For the topping: boil the potatoes in water until soft. Drain and put on the heat for a short while to dry. Mash, add the butter, 2 tablespoons of parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Now to get it all together:  Spoon the meat into an oven proof dish. Top with the mash (working outside in) add some more parmesan and fluff up the potato. Put into the oven baking for thirty minutes until golden brown.

About Cooking At Zero Degrees

This is a blog (it also works on an ipad and now has a Facebook page) about what we eat at home. Starters, mains, sauces, side dishes, cocktails and links to local shops. It’s all here. Food is fun, it should be fun to make and fun to eat. For some people making a meal is a chore. If it is then don’t do it; but please, it’s better to eat something, anything, that you make at home from scratch, because prepared, packaged supermarket dinners and food have about as much flavour as the plastic or cardboard package they come in. Food cultivation and husbandry is not just a moral argument. Eggs that don’t come from battery hens do taste better, cattle properly reared have more flavour - and just think about it: at its most simple, if they’re not being pumped full of chemicals then you’re not being pumped full of chemicals. How good is that? If you can buy local, use your neighbourhood shops, you will miss them when they are gone. Most of all, have fun making a meal of it! Oh, and why at zero degrees? Because that’s where we live – in Greenwich, London.
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