Recipe for Disaster: A Shepherd's Pie for David Bowie

Meredith Graves makes shepherd's pie
Meredith Graves makes shepherd's pie
Matthew Niederhauser for the Village Voice

[Meredith Graves — Perfect Pussy frontwoman, Honor Press founder, Voice festival correspondent, etc. — loves making and eating food just as much as she loves making and listening to music. Meredith is, along with the rest of us, heartbroken over the death of David Bowie. She made his favorite food for this week's column.]

It feels sacrilegious to write about anything this week other than David Bowie’s surprising and untimely passing. Amidst an avalanche of praise for his very recent release, Blackstar, and just days after celebrating his 69th birthday, Bowie passed away quietly sometime in the middle of the night while most of us were sleeping.

Then the world learned he’d been dying of cancer for eighteen months; he’d kept it from Brian Eno, from Iggy Pop, from me and you. That morning we would all reread the lyrics to "Lazarus" with a heavy heart, re-watch his final music video with new eyes, and learn that a "black star" is actually a malicious type of cancerous lesion. Look closely, it’s all there. And now, he’s not.

Bowie is as the many-faced god — gender blender, dance floor prince/ss, aesthetic icon, film star, father, controversy. Now he is Bowie the dead, whose last moves were made deliberately in the spirit of keeping his fans safe. He encoded the terrible news in a language we learned from him in the first place, that of not saying everything right away or all at once, of being quieter and braver than you seem. He did all this — arguably the most important gesture of his entire career, one that will inevitably be recorded as one of the greatest moments in music history — for us.

Seeing the music world’s collective response on social media shows that truly, his whole career was a gift. He saved so many people we love. Liberation takes many forms: sonic, sexual, religious. And now he is liberated. The freest man is finally free.

Some is known of Bowie’s relationship to food, in addition to his much-mythologized Seventies diet of red bell peppers, milk, and cocaine. Shepherd’s pie was apparently Bowie’s favorite. He’d order it at restaurants and pubs when he was on tour and ask Iman to make it for him at home. Comfort food is this way — warm and familiar, sometimes a little heavy. Two people may cherish the same recipe but need it at different times, in response to different things. You can dance to "Modern Love," you can cry to "Modern Love," no matter where you are in the world. I have done both this week, including while I was making this. Thank you, David Bowie. You are awesome and we were so lucky to have you for as long as we did.

Shepherd's pie for David Bowie
Shepherd's pie for David Bowie
Matthew Niederhauser for the Village Voice

Ingredients:

2 big heads of garlic
3-4 medium potatoes (I like the red ones)
1/2-1c heavy cream/sour cream/ricotta cheese/unsweetened Greek yogurt
1 medium yellow onion
2-3 carrots
3-4 medium-large winter root vegetables (sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, parsnips, whatever’s readily available)*
Some sort of green vegetable (I’m using peas, but you could use brussels sprouts, sautéed greens, okra)*
2-3 cups of stock or broth
Butter (preferably salted because seriously when has unsalted butter ever been good or fun or right)
Salt, pepper

*This is an extremely intuitive dish. Use whatever you have on hand. The goal is to make a stew with lots of different, fresh vegetables. Non-vegetarian versions of this dish are often made with lamb, but: no. If you want, add cubes of cooked lamb to the stew before layering it in the pan with the potatoes.

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the top 1/2” off heads of garlic so the cloves are sticking out. Put the garlic bulbs on a big piece of tinfoil, then drizzle them with a bunch of olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Wrap the tinfoil around the garlic bulbs and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes. The garlic, when cooked, should be soft and smushy, and the heat will have made it a little sweet.

2. Boil a big-ass pot of water with a healthy pour of salt. Add cubed potatoes. Boil the potatoes until they’re soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and return to the pot.

3. Add half a cup of heavy cream (Note: you can substitute Greek yogurt, sour cream, or ricotta cheese, which is what I used), four tablespoons of butter, and your smashed roast garlic cloves. Stir to incorporate; add salt and pepper to taste.

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4. In another big-ass pot, over moderate heat, sauté a chopped onion and a clove of garlic in butter until it all starts to turn sweaty and gold and translucent — maybe ten minutes.

5. Stir in the remaining vegetables. I used carrots, celery, turnips, a stray sweet potato I had sitting around, and peas. Add to this a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme, or more if you really like thyme.

6. Stir in your broth and simmer, covered, until the vegetables start to get soft. Then uncover and boil until the veggies are all cooked through and there’s way less liquid in the pan.

7. Transfer the cooked veggies and whatever little juices remain into a pie pan or casserole dish. Top with a healthy amount of mashed potatoes. Broil for 5 minutes or until the top turns golden brown.


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