It is now more than a decade since I left the ‘smoke’, hustle and bustle of London and headed for the green and pleasant climes of sunny Surrey. For someone who was born, raised, lived, and had worked for most of their life in various parts of our great capital city, the move beyond the confines of the M25 was a leap into the unknown. With hindsight I wish I had moved many years before.
My own little corner of Nirvana is in a suburb of Woking called Horsell. Woking had originally been a number of small villages that were eventually turned into an urban conurbation when the Victorians built a train station slap in the middle of the villages on common land in what is now Woking town center. Despite the villages merging each village has managed to keep its own identity and, in my humble opinion, Horsell is the pick of the bunch.
We have a proper high street without, baring the Co-op, a chain in sight. At the top end, on the hill, there is a very pretty church that has parts dating back to the 12th century, two excellent pubs, one of which brews its own beer, and two more pubs a short walk away on Horsell common. Amongst the many excellent restaurants, hairdressers and cafés are two shops that are just wonderfully from a time gone by.
The butchers have an enormous display counter bursting with amazing produce that takes up about 70% of the front shop leaving only a tiny area for the customers to stand. You are served by a couple of gigantic lads in stripy aprons (why are butchers always so huge?) while you can see two other lads going hell for leather prepping out the back.
The second shop is the Greengrocers that has a small central walkway and then fruit and veg stacked to the rafters on either side. All the prices are of course on handwritten signs and there are hooks of brown paper bags for your goods. Everyone is addressed as ‘Alright my darlin’, which took me by surprise I can tell you, and your final bill appears to be plucked from thin air. The produce in both shops is amazing and despite the issues with access in these COVID-19 times, people happily queue patiently to get in.
However, the best thing about Horsell is the people. Unlike anywhere I lived in London, I know all my neighbours and there is a real community spirit. After 11 years I still feel like a newbie because many of the people we know were born and raised here and have never left. For instance, our closest neighbour, who is nearly 80, lives in a house with his wife that was bought by his grandparents when it was a new build in the 1930’s. They are wonderful people and food, wine, beer, whisky, friendship, and support travels back and forth across the garden fence in spades. It was one of the dishes that we passed over the fence that turned out to be a surprise hit that I am sharing with you today.
For the past year two things have been true for most of us; we have had to stay at home so have hardly moved and we have all felt the financial pinch. This is where this recipe is perfect. It is low in carbohydrates and it is perfect to cook as a batch to be frozen and pulled from the freezer when needed.
For the filling
- 2kg of Lamb mince (or beef if you prefer)
- 2 onions, ½ cm dice
- 2 sticks of celery, ½ cm dice
- 2 medium carrots, ½ cm dice
- 2 cloves of garlic crushed
- 1 cup of peas
- 250g mushrooms, chopped
- 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (400g)
- 40g of tomato purée
- 1 teaspoon of thyme, fresh or dried
- 50g butter
- Seasoning to taste
For the topping
- 900g cauliflower florets
- 60ml crème fraiche
- 200g grated cheese
- 50g butter
- 2 eggs
- 8 rashers of bacon, cooked and chopped (optional)
- In a large pan heat a little oil and the add the mince and cook until it is all sealed and then drain in a cullender.
- In the same pan add a splash more oil and fry the onions, celery, garlic, carrots, and thyme.
- When the onions have softened add the tomato purée and mix thoroughly into the veg and cook out for a minute or two until the bottom of the pan darkens.
- Add the tinned tomatoes and stir thoroughly making sure that you get the colour from the bottom of the pan. Bring to the boil to create the sauce.
- Add the mince to the sauce and stir in. If it looks too thick add a little water.
- Now you can either cover the pan and cook over a low heat for approx. an hour, stirring occasionally or if you have a slow cooker pop it in there and forget about it for 2 hours.
- After an hour/2 hours cook the mushrooms in a little butter and add to the mince with the peas and cook for another 15 minutes. Check for seasoning.
- In the meantime, boil or steam the cauliflower until its slightly overcooked then drain well and put back in the pan over the heat to dry out for a minute, shaking well to stop it catching.
- Mash the cauliflower with a potato masher and then mix in the crème fraiche, the cheese, and the butter. Beat the eggs and mix in as well.
- Lastly, stir in the bacon pieces. In a suitable baking tray put the mince, top with the cauliflower, and then bake in the oven for approx. 45 minutes at 170 degrees until golden brown on top.
And there it is, so easy and so tasty. If you are going to freeze in portions, I strongly recommend you allow it to cool overnight and cut up the next day.
I had it for my lunch today. Four minutes in the microwave and served with beautiful steamed tender stem broccoli. I feel so virtuous that I might have to have a glass of wine to restore the yin and yang!