I have a secret.
I love tater tots.
I know. Shocking. (I hope we can still be friends.)
Just as hilarious and ironic is that I've spent years creating wholesome, nutritious meals and baked goods from locally and seasonally sourced products. Regardless, every now and then I crave crunchy, fluffy, artificial, factory-made, tot goodness.
I also admit to an eagerness for Mystery Box cuisine. In other words, taking whatever I have on hand and creating something edible. (Well, mostly.) Today, there are half a dozen partial bags of tater tots in the various freezers scattered around the property, 86 quart bags of Neverending summer harvest green beans, and a slowly freezer-burning zip-lock bag of ground beef. Downstairs in the root cellar, I found one or two yellow onions rolling around on a dusty shelf.
Sad, I know.
During my time in culinary school, it was all the rage to take a classic comfort food, deconstruct it, and turn it into haute cuisine- suitable for a fine dining establishment. Having found nothing acceptable on the internet, I decided to create something new, using the same technique. Digging into my crowded refrigerator, I emerged with several items that would do for my use. An idea formed in my mind: Shepard's Pie Meatballs!
Shepard's pie is a humble country dish, eaten historically throughout the British Isles. Essentially a meat stew covered with mashed potatoes and baked, shepard's pie can be adapted to any kind of meat, with any kind of dozens of vegetable add-ins- depending on what you like and what you have available.
In some cultures, meatballs are also considered comfort food, but for my family, they are more of a luxury, since they take so much time to assemble. The following recipe uses only what I had on hand. I also thought I'd make a complete meal by serving the meatballs over pasta with gravy, but of course they can go into rolls, over rice, polenta, or even more mashed potatoes with any kind of sauce- or not!
Use what you have on hand and have fun! Make your own deconstructed comfort meal to help welcome the warmer days ahead!
Shepard's Pie Meatballs
4 cups tater tots, thawed
1 large onion
2 cups green beans
1-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I love cheese, so I add as much as I possibly can without looking like a glutton)
3 pounds ground chuck
For the gravy:
1/3 cup meat drippings
1/3 cup all purpose flour
5-6 cups chicken stock, heated to boiling (I used chicken stock because that's what was in the freezer. You can use any meat or vegetable broth or stock you might have on hand)
1/2 cup heavy cream (you can also use milk, or a combination)
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400. Place the tots in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and process until the tots are broken into little pieces. Meanwhile, mince the onion and green beans. (I did this step in a food processor.)
Mix together the meat, tater tots, onion, beans, and cheese. Using an ice cream, or portion scoop, form the mixture into balls, and place on a sheet pan prepared with parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. (My meatballs were larger and needed that time. If yours are smaller, you'll need less time in the oven.)
Once they're done, remove to a plate and scrape the drippings from the pan into a sauce pot on medium/high heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine. Add the stock and whisk until smooth and thick. The hotter your stock is, the fewer lumps you will have.
This method can be adapted to your family's needs, and what you have handy. For those of you with picky eaters, its also a deliciously sneaky way to get more vegetables into your children's diets! Have fun!