“The feast is ready, which the careful Titus/ Hath ordained to an Honourable end.” Titus, 5.3
Often derided as Shakespeare’s sloppiest meat dish – even to the point of questioning whether “Shepherd’s Pie” was actually prepared by Shakespeare or an attempt by some lesser-known chef de garde manger to get promoted to the line – when well prepared it can be a powerful, delicious main course. Though as usual the dish is, um, “based” on a previous recipe from another chef (in this instance from the Italic chef Ovid,) Shakespeare’s “Pie” differs from the original in its incorporation of artichokes and ham. (An interesting aside: an earlier version of Titus’ Pie is rumored to have been a big underground hit in the middle east, conquering palettes throughout Israel and Palestine. Which goes to show that some hungers are the same for all of us, no matter what sex, creed or culinary background we come from. )
The Ingredients of the Dish:
Artichokes, enough to make someone choke
Lamb ground up enough as to be indistinguishable from;
Ground veal, and
Pepper & salt
Butter, enough to sweeten the ground meat
Milk or cream
The Chefs of the Recipe:
Titus – owner and chef of ‘Il Generale’
Judy – Will’s second daughter
Shakespeare – Shaksper, Shakesper, Will, The Bard, William, whatever. What’s in a name, anyway? Shakespeare by any other spelling is still the Bard.
For this Italian adaptation of our own British dish I have to give credit to both Anne and my second daughter, Judy. Before our holiday in Rome last year, my wife, (I wanted to go to the beach but Anne, well, she is Anne and therefore must be obeyed,) started asking around and researching on-line for any lesser known but interesting places to eat. She sent an e-mail to Judy, who was interning for 6 months in Brussels. It so happened that the family of a new Italian friend she met there ran a quaint little trattoria, ‘Il Generale’, within walking distance of the main Roman imperial ruins.
Her father, Titus, is the head of the show and spends much of his time in the kitchen. He and his family knew we were coming and so insisted on making us a special tasting feast. After the usual appetizers of various artisan cold cuts and stuffed grilled vegetables, he had us try a few of the classic Roman pastas including a deliciously adapted ravioli carbonara with a fresh egg yolk filling. I was expecting the usual tripe or stewed ox-tail to follow, which in fact came later, when instead they brought out what looked like a sort of Shepherd’s pie. Yet its taste was quite different, simple but exquisite. I asked him – Titus is a well-traveled, well-educated man who speaks several languages, even if he isn’t English – for the recipe.
“Your request does grace me with the highest honor,” he answered, “and with that honor I will happily tell you of the meat and potato pie I’ve bid you to eat. In unequal proportions of veal, ham, beef and artichoke you make the grounded base. Bake it once, then into that shell spoon in a well-buttered puree of your choosing, be it straight potato or mixed with white beets or peas or other flavors as you like it, then let it warm again in the oven until that combination is rightly cooked. Add the lightest hint of cinnamon in tempered gravy you’ve collected and place lightly above and beside the plated piece. A simple thing, almost a dainty dish.” Dainty! After the meal, Anne and I skipped dinner for the next 2 days! But it was worth it. For dessert we had a lovely ricotta cheese pie and, of course, a fresh tiramisu.
Well, it’s almost time for me to go. We’re off to the movies, Anne and I. An Anthony Hopkins flick. Some story about a vengeful chef. Now that’s a movie I want to see…
The real recipe:
For the Shepherd’s Pie:
Italian Shepherd’s Pie of Titus Andronicus
- 650 grams ground lean veal
- 175 grams ground lean lamb
- 100 grams ground, lean cooked ham
- 75 grams boiled artichokes in small pieces
- 7-8 potatoes
- 2-3 white beets
- ground blood sausage optional
- Ask your butcher if he or she can make you the ground meat and artichoke combination. If they can?t, mix the meat and artichokes into one patty at home, blending in the seasoning.
- In a 1 large or two smaller pie baking dishes, place the meat evenly, making a sort of thick meat crust.
- Place in a hot oven until the meat no longer sticks to a fork you poke into it. Be careful not to dry out the meat. Remove once cooked.
- Meanwhile boil the potatoes with their skins on, and the cleaned beets.
- Remove the potato skins after boiling.
- Mash the whole into a thick puree using butter or cream to make the consistency you prefer, though the puree shouldn't be too liquid.
- Mixing in pureed peas works well. Spoon the mix into the meat crusts and place back into the oven for 15 minutes, remove, and let stand a bit before serving.
- Thicken a veal stock with flower and butter as gravy, flavoring it with a pinch of good cinnamon
- Serve with a hearty red wine: a Cabernet Sauvignon or Amarone will work just fine.
link: a Basic recipe for a medieval/Renaissance-style meat pie – http://www.godecookery.com/goderec/grec11.htm