The ultimate comforting main, this delicious cottage pie combines a rich red wine and beef stew with a buttery sweet potato topping. A spin on a family favourite, it is sure to go down a treat.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan, tip in the lardons and fry until crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on kitchen towel. Tip in the onions and fry until turning brown, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes. Remove to a separate plate.
Pour another tablespoon of oil into the pan if needed, then add the meat and fry for a couple of minutes until no longer pink. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute, scraping the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for another minute. Pour in the red wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the stock, carrot, mushrooms, the fried onions, thyme and bay, season with pepper then bring back to a gentle simmer and simmer, part covered with a lid, for 1 3/4-2 hours, stirring occasionally until the meat is really tender. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. If the gravy needs thickening up a bit, slacken 2-3 teaspoons of plain flour with a little water, stir this into the stew and bring to a boil, stirring until it's the desired thickness. Tip in the lardons, season with salt and pepper and spoon into a 1.5 litre ovenproof dish.
Meanwhile, make the sweet potato mash. Drop the regular potatoes into a large pan of boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Tip in the sweet potatoes, bring back to a boil and cook for another 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander, return to the pan to dry out briefly over a very low heat. Remove from the heat, put in the butter and mash together, then season to taste with salt and pepper and beat well with a wooden spoon.
Spoon the mash over the meat and fork over. Dot a few small pieces of extra butter on top and scatter over a few fresh thyme leaves. The pie can now be chilled for up to a day ahead. Preheat the oven to gas 6, 200℃, fan 180℃. Place the pie dish on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, until the topping is golden and the filling bubbly (or if made ahead and chilled overnight, bake as above, allowing 40-45 minutes.) Rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Freezing and defrosting guidelines
After you have assembled the pie and before baking it as above, leave it to get completely cold, then cover tightly with cling film and foil and freeze, for up to 1-3 months. To serve, defrost overnight in the fridge then cook as above, for about 40-45 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
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For top tips on protecting you and your family when preparing raw meat and poultry, visit Food Safety in the Home and view the full Food safety at home video.