Lentil and Mushroom Welsh Rarebit Pie

Lentil and Mushroom Welsh Rarebit Pie
Photo credit: Richard Hollingum

It is the approach of the Spring equinox – at last! Who knows, perhaps the ground will dry up when the March winds get going.   Slightly earlier each morning, before there is more than a glimmer of light in the sky, we can hear the mounting excitement of the birds trying out their calls, warning rivals off territories already staked, and each day I discover more primroses coming up in unexpected corners of the garden. 

Longer days may be almost here, but the forecasters aren’t extending much hope of Spring-like weather, so to cheer ourselves up, what about a lovely warming dish that is inexpensive, easy to make and will freeze happily.  It’s a jazzed-up version of cottage pie, so the lentil dish will be topped with mashed potato, then finished with a super mix of mustard, cheese and yoghourt, or crème fraiche.  Non-dairy alternatives to the cheese and yoghourt work just as well.

Skin-on chips seem to be the thing in pubs and cafés these days, so let’s hear it for their leguminous cousins, green lentils!  The lovely orange lentil is the same animal, but stripped of its skin, and green lentils come in different iterations, from the bog standard to the rather upmarket Puy lentil, considered by many as a delicacy.  You can buy either canned or dried green lentils.  Dried ones are cheaper and can easily be cooked at home.  Whilst the tins offer convenience, there is a lot of water in the can, the contents will not be as tasty, and a pack of dried lentils is, weight for weight, a much more economic purchase.  And lentils don’t need to be soaked prior to cooking, simply wash and go. 

 You will need:

Approximately 230g dried lentils (substitute 2 tins if you’re in a rush).
1 small bay leaf, or ½ if it’s dried
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
175g medium-sized button or chestnut mushrooms.  Use more if you really love mushrooms!
2 or 3 shallots, or 2 small-to-medium onions
A little oil for sautéing mushrooms and onions.
A good dollop of tomato purée
A tin of chopped tomatoes
Red wine
1 stock cube
Fresh or dried herbs – I recommend dried mixed herbs at this time of year.
600g potatoes, scrubbed clean, cut into 4, or more, chunks, depending on size.
A dash of milk
A pinch of salt.

 For the topping:

1 small pot of crème fraiche, or natural yoghourt
1 dessert spoonful of Dijon mustard
175g grated strong cheddar or similar hard cheese.

Put the washed green lentils with a small clove of crushed garlic, the bay leaf and half an onion or a shallot, roughly sliced, into a pan and top up with water so the lentils are well covered.  Add a slug of wine but no salt. Bring to the boil then lower the flame so the pan simmers well for another 20 mins.  Stir periodically so the lentils don’t catch on the base, and top up the water if needed.  Test to make sure they are cooked. Now drain them, retaining the juice they have cooked in. If the flavour is a little sharp, take the edge off it by adding a teaspoonful of honey, stirring it well in.

Next, prepare the mashed potatoes.  If you prefer to peel them, that’s ok, but leaving them in their skins is also an option.  Cook them in your usual manner.  Test with a knife to make sure they are cooked, then drain, allow the steam to evaporate for a few minutes, then mash them well, adding salt and milk in the usual way.

Set the oven to the hot side of medium while you’re preparing the filling. 

Slice onions or shallots and sauté, with the oil, in a large pan until they become slightly translucent. Next, add the quartered mushrooms and stir while they cook, adding the remaining crushed garlic, till they start to give off a little juice.  Now stir in the herbs and the tomato purée.  At this stage, add the lentils then the tinned tomatoes.  Sprinkle the stock cube over the top, add a slug of red wine and stir in well.  If the mixture is a little dry, add some of the reserved lentil juice, and another slug of red wine.  Stir well so everything is well distributed, then check for seasoning. 

Pour the filling into an oven proof dish or casserole, ensuring there will be enough space at the top for a good layer of mash and the cheesy topping.  Cover the top with mashed potato.

Make the topping by stirring the mustard into the yoghourt or crème fraiche, then stir in the grated cheese.  Spread this over the mash, then cook in the oven until the filling is sufficiently hot and the topping begins to bubble and turn a lovely golden brown.  If the oven is too hot the topping may start to brown before the filling is hot enough.  If this seems to be the case, turn the oven down a little, and open the door for a minute or two, so the temperature drops.  Once the topping is bubbling away nicely, the meal is ready to serve!

Et bon appétit!