The Vegetarian Shepard

My debut trip to the Green City Market was a miserable failure. Seriously, Chicago. The weather should not be like it is mid-May. It was absolutely freezing out. I dragged poor Brian to the market with a flimsy little coat. That being said, it was tough to get much time from anyone to chat, nor did I feel like lingering around for too long.
The market has some wonderful stands up already, and lots of delicious, local fare. We picked up a laundry list of things like Wisconsin cheese curds for some friends, purple asparagus, a tasty semolina sesame seed loaf, some tamales from Las Manas Tamales, green garlic, shiitake mushrooms and..... potatoes!! One of the biggest tents at this point in the season, Nichols Farm & Orchard, had a fabulous selection of potatoes! After wondering through the market for about 10 minutes, a quick decision was made to talk to the farmers at Nichols, pick out some awesome looking potatoes, and split for some heat!

I was able to chat with Nick, the son of Nichols Farm founders, Lloyd and Doreen. These guys have been around since the Green City Market started up. A good place for me to start. Keeping it brief, he recommended that I pick up some of the Russian Blue potatoes. That I did. He mentioned that they make a good mashed potato and would be great this time of year with some green garlic. Ahhh... yum. Done deal. So we walked away from the market, loaded with goodies and headed to a cafe for some heat and  breakfast.

As promised, here are a couple of recipes to try out with Russian Blues!

Russian Blue Mashed Potatoes with Green Garlic and Piave Cheese

3 large Russian Blue potatoes (rinsed and quartered, skin on)
1/2 stick unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 stalk green garlic (sliced thin)
1/4 cup Piave cheese (grated)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cover potatoes in water and add a generous amount of salt. Cover and bring to a boil for 10-12 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft (test with a fork). I like my mashed potatoes nice and smooth so I toss them into a food processor, or bowl if you have a hand mixer. Add the half and half and butter to the processor and run until smooth.

Stir in green garlic, piave cheese and salt and pepper to taste, and mix to combine. I got home pretty late from work one night this week so I whipped up the potatoes and ate it with some sauteed purple asparagus I bought at the market. Who knew it turned green when you cooked it!? I saved about 3/4 of the potatoes for my second recipe below, vegetarian Shepard's Pie.

The Vegetarian Shepard 
(Vegetarian Shepard's Pie)

1/2 yellow or white onion (chopped)
2 carrots (peeled and chopped)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
15-18 shiitake mushrooms (sliced) (lamb or beef to keep traditional)
2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup chicken broth (or veggie broth)
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tbsp fresh Rosemary (minced)
1/2 tbsp fresh thyme (minced)
  1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 ear sweet corn (cut off the cob) (frozen or fresh)
1/2 cup sweet peas (frozen or fresh)
2-3 cups Russian Blue mashed potatoes
1/2 cup Piave cheese (grated)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil or butter

I wanted to use my left over mashed potatoes in some way other than just re-heating them in the microwave. So I turned up the creativity factor. After having been to Blokes & Birds a couple times over the past month, the Shepard's Pie keeps tempting me to make one! With a produce drawer full of mushrooms and all sorts of veggies (even though Brian hijacked some of my green garlic and mushrooms to make me a delicious omelet, breakfast-in-bed-style), it became obvious what I should do with my potatoes! Vegetarian Shepard's Pie! You can easily substitute or add meat to this recipe, but I had some beautiful shiitake mushrooms from the market that needed to be used up.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Start by heating the oil or butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook for 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and let cook for 2 more minutes. Add some salt and pepper.

Add the sliced shiitakes and cook for about 3 minutes, until softened. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and mix until ingredients become a pasty, thick mixture.

Pour in the wet ingredients (chicken broth, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce) and rosemary and thyme. Add salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat, until mixture has thickened up nicely.

Once thickened, transfer mixture to baking dish. Smooth the potatoes over the top of the vegetables, sealing the edges as best as possible to stop mixture from spilling over the top (mine still boils over a bit). Spread the cheese over the top of the potatoes. Bake in oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest for about 10 minutes, or you'll burn your tongue off. No one wants that to happen. This is a great vegetarian recipe. I brought it in for lunch and reheated it the next few days, and it was actually better after a day or two.

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