Some folks are as adamant about their shepherd's pie as others are their chili.
Which is to say, just as some people are quite certain that nothing with even a trace of a bean should ever dare call itself chili, there are others who maintain that shepherd's pie must be nothing but ground lamb and mashed potatoes.
I'm afraid my life, as well as my need to get a good dinner on the table fast, just doesn't allow for such absolutes.
In my family, we've always taken a loose interpretation of shepherd's pie (and chili, for that matter). We'll gladly make it with whatever ground meat we have handy, including a blend. It always has a layer of corn (because that's what my great grandmother did), and finally a thick bed of mashed potatoes.
And so it was with that sense of creative culinary liberty that I created this sausage-based shepherd's pie topped with mashed sweet potatoes (made all the more sweet thanks to a bit of brown sugar). The result is savory and sweet in just the right balance.
SWEET POTATO AND SAUSAGE SHEPHERD'S PIE
Start to finish: 1 hour (25 minutes active)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 pound loose Italian sausage meat
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 ounces (half a bottle) stout or other dark beer
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cool water
15-ounce can corn kernels, drained
8 1/4-ounce can creamed corn
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
Salt, to taste
Heat the oven to 400 F. Lightly oil a standard loaf pan.
Place the sweet potatoes in a large pot and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over high, combine the olive oil, garlic and onion. Saute for 5 minutes, or until just tender.
Add the sausage, beef and pepper. Saute until the meat is browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add the beer and simmer until reduced by half, about 4 minutes.
In a small glass, mix the cornstarch with the cool water. Add the cornstarch mixture to the meat and stir until thickened. Remove from the heat.
Spread the meat and onion mixture evenly in the loaf pan. In a small bowl, mix the corn kernels and creamed corn, then spread in an even layer over the meat. Set aside.
Once the sweet potatoes have cooked, drain and return them to the pot. Add the milk, butter and brown sugar, then mash the potatoes until smooth. Season with salt.
Spoon the potatoes evenly over the corn. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are lightly browned at the edges.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 420 calories; 210 calories from fat (51 percent of total calories); 23 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 31 g carbohydrate; 17 g protein; 3 g fiber; 740 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.