February always seems to be a bit grey and miserable, especially if you’re living in the deepest French countryside. So banish those tail-end of winter blues by cooking up some vegan comfort food. Potatoes feature in many countries’ traditional peasant cuisines. Think chips, jacket potatoes and mash and gravy in the UK; frites, dauphinoise gratin and tartiflette in France. Potatoes are an ingredient that seem to have been around forever, but in fact the first potato did not reach the shores of Europe until the end of the sixteenth century.
I’d always thought that Shepherd’s or Cottage Pie, another potato favourite, was a uniquely British dish, but many European countries have a similar ‘mince and mash’ traditional country recipe. For example, in Germany the dish is called ‘Hackfleischauflauf mit Kartoffelhaube’. In the UK, the name Cottage Pie can be traced back to 1791, a time when the potato was introduced into the country as an edible crop for the poor. The dish was basically any leftover meat and veg with a topping of mashed potato.
In France, you’ve probably seen a ready-meal in the chiller cabinets called ‘Parmentier’ which looks remarkably like Cottage Pie. This is indeed a French version of what I’d always considered to be a quintessentially British dish. Hachis Parmentier comprises mashed potato topping a base of ground meat, either mixed together or in layers like the traditional British version. There is also Brandade de Morue Parmentier which is actually fish pie.
Who invented Parmentier?
Antonine-Augustin Parmentier (1737–1813) was a French Army pharmacist, nutritional chemist and, late in his career, Inspector General of the Health Service. He was a great proponent of the humble potato, which at this time were only permitted for use as animal feed. In fact, in France his name is synonymous with many potato-based dishes. Human consumption of potatoes was actually outlawed in France as they were believed to cause leprosy. Thanks to Parmentier’s work, potatoes were finally declared edible in France in 1772, but it was not until potatoes saved the population from famine following crop failures in 1785 that potatoes were finally accepted by the public.
A vegan version
Traditional French recipes for Parmentier are very similar to their British counterparts. However, the puree of potatoes is augmented with milk, cream, butter, mustard and gruyere cheese to create a rich unctuous top layer. The meat element is flavoured with onion, shallot, garlic, carrot and more butter. When developing my vegan version of Cottage ‘Parmentier’ Pie I decided to go down the French route and include some soya cream and lots of vegan butter in the creamy mash plus a dash of Dijon mustard.
Cottage Parmentier Pie
- 800g potatoes
- One medium onion, diced
- Two garlic cloves
- One cup uncooked green, brown or orange lentils, washed and soaked for half an hour or so
- 150g carrots, diced (three medium carrots)
- One tsp dried thyme
- One tbsp fresh parsley, chopped or one tsp dried
- One tsp Dijon mustard
- Vegan stock cube made up into 500 ml stock
- One tbsp vegan butter
- Two tbsp arrowroot
- 50ml soya cream
Wash the lentils, pick over to remove any stray debris and then leave to soak in clan water for half an hour or so. I usually do this whilst preparing the potatoes.
Next, peel the potatoes and dice them into cubes. Place in a large saucepan of water, add salt (optional) and boil until soft and fluffy. Drain thoroughly.
Allow the potatoes to cool a little and then add butter, Dijon mustard and soya cream and mash well, until creamy. Set aside. (Tip: don’t prepare too far ahead as cooked potatoes stored in the fridge can discolour).
Then, prepare your mince substitute. Sauté the onion and garlic until soft, then add lentils, thyme, carrots and stock. Simmer gently until the lentils and carrots are cooked. Add two teaspoons of arrowroot (or you can use cornflour) and a little more water if necessary, then mix well to make a thick sauce.
Arrange the lentil mix in the bottom of a pie dish, press down lightly and smooth the top. Spoon the mashed potato onto the top, spreading out to cover the entire top of the lentil mix. Press the back of a fork over the mash to make a pattern. You can also add a sprinkling of vegan grated cheese if you like.
Bake at 200oC for 20–25 minutes until the top is golden and crunchy.