Hearty Party Fare: Shepherd’s Pie with Cauliflower Mash

As the days shorten and temperatures plummet, comfort foods like shepherd’s pie with cauliflower mash are just the ticket for warming the bones and cheering the soul.

Overhead view of a shepherd's pie surrounded by its component parts: beef gravy, cauliflower mash, and peas.

Shepherd’s Pie, often misspelled “shepards pie,” is a lovely dish made up of three layers that combine beautifully and make for hearty party fare with friends on a cold winter night. It is especially nice when served with a bold, mulled red wine.

The dish starts with a rich hamburger gravy flavored with onions, then a layer of sprightly green peas that add color and a pop of sweetness, and, finally, a creamy cauliflower mash fragrant with garlic and a light dusting of cheery red paprika.

Although shepherd’s pie is traditionally made with a mashed potato topping, cauliflower mash is a fine substitute that results in a dish of less calories, unique flavor, and a good shot of vitamin C that is always welcome in winter.

Cauliflower is a wonderfully versatile vegetable that can be used in numerous recipes to make them not only delicious, but a wee bit healthier. We love using it in pizza crust, cauliflower bites, and mac and cheese.

Overhead view of a bowl of beef gravy for shepherd's pie.

Layer One: Beef Gravy

A good shepherd’s pie begins with a savory beef gravy. While some like to use chopped or minced beef, I prefer simple hamburger rather than a lean cut of beef. The extra fat not only adds flavor to the dish, but it also provides a good base for frying the chopped onion so no additional cooking fat is necessary. To make the gravy extra flavorful, I always use a strong beef stock for the liquid instead of plain water, and add plenty of freshly ground black pepper for a bit of kick.

Overhead view of a bowl of bright green peas.

Layer Two: Peas

I love the layer of peas in shepherd’s pie — it provides a wonderful burst of color in an otherwise drab looking dish and brings a hit of freshness that pairs well with the creamy mash and sauce. I don’t cook the peas beforehand since they will be heated through in the oven, and I don’t like them to lose their color or texture by overcooking. I also like to toss them with a bit of lemon pepper for an extra burst of sprightly flavor.

As much as I love peas, I do have friends who are not fans of the tiny green vegetable, so when they are over, I substitute chopped green beans or corn instead. Both options are delightful.

Overhead view of a bowl of cauliflower mash sprinkled with paprika.

Layer Three: Cauliflower Mash

My recipe for shepherd’s pie with cauliflower mash calls for a whole head of cauliflower. This may seem excessive, but once it has gone through the cooking process, it is just the right amount.

To make a truly luscious cauliflower mash, simply cut the cauliflower into florets, peel a few cloves of garlic, and steam the lot until the cauliflower is fork tender. Drain the cauliflower and garlic and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, then add olive oil and blend until smooth and creamy. Add in Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, and puree until smooth and creamy.

Once all three layers are prepared, pull out a baking dish and spread the beef gravy evenly on the bottom, top with peas, then cover with cauliflower mash. Dust lightly with paprika and bake 20-30 minutes until heated through and top begins to brown lightly. Serve hot.

Overhead view of a shepherd's pie with cauliflower mash, surrounded by its component parts: beef gravy, green peas, and cauliflower mash.

Shepherd’s Pie with Cauliflower Mash

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound hamburger
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Paprika for dusting

Directions:

Fry hamburger and onion together until hamburger is cooked through and onion is soft.

In small bowl, whisk together beef stock, flour, salt, and pepper. Pour over hamburger and onion and stir well to combine. Bring to boil and simmer for 1 minute until thickened.

Pour into baking dish and spread evenly. Top with thawed peas. Set aside.

Cut cauliflower into florets and place in large pot. Peel garlic cloves and add to pot. Add 2-3 inches of water and place over high heat. Bring to boil and steam for 20 minutes or until cauliflower is tender.

Drain cauliflower and process in food processor until finely chopped. Add olive oil and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper and Parmesan cheese, and puree again until smooth.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Spread cauliflower mash over hamburger and pea layers. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 20-30 minutes until top is golden.

Serve hot.

Hearty Party Fare: Shepherd's Pie with Cauliflower Mash