This is a sponsored post for the County of Middlesex, Ontario. I help promote the rich bounty of food products and markets in the County. That means they’re paying me to write this article for my website and covering the cost of some of the ingredients used in this recipe. You can be confident that I only work with sponsors I believe in and share my own opinions with you. Paid or not, there’s nothing like driving around the County, stopping at farm stands and country markets to pick up the freshest of ingredients to make something good for dinner. Like this Chicken & Harvest Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie.
Eating Local in Middlesex County
This is such a great time of year to take a drive in the country, especially if you like to a) eat and b) cook. There are roadside stands with the freshest of produce on display, and the farmer’s markets and country markets are all bursting at the seams with fruits and vegetables.
Living in London, Ontario as I do, I’m fortunate to be in a city almost entirely surrounded by Middlesex County, a rich agricultural gem. Yes, there are farm markets in the city and some rich farmland within its boundaries, but I so enjoy getting out into the seemingly endless farmland of the county, dotted with towns and villages here and there. I grew up on a farm in neighbouring Lambton County, and feel such a sense of peace and belonging when I’m driving along country roads.
An aimless country drive is a pleasant pastime, and it’s liberating to let your menu be guided by whatever catches your eye at the farm stands. But if you want to be more purposeful in your approach to locating the ingredients for dinner, you definitely should consult the Middlesex-London Local Food Guide before you set out. It has everything you need: a list of who produces what, contact information, and a map to help you get there! You can find it at the link, or get a hard copy at the Visit Middlesex kiosk in six branches of the Middlesex County Library (call to see which branches have it). Also check out the country markets and farms section of the Visit Middlesex website for more information on local food sources.
My Harvest Shepherd’s Pie Road Trip
I knew exactly what I wanted to make when I set off on my recent harvest procurement road trip: a meat pie version of one of my favourite soups. To keep it simple, I decided to go with a shepherd’s pie instead of making a pastry crust. My plan was to get a bit of what I needed at each stop along the way.
I started by heading west out of London on Glendon Drive, which I always call County Road 14. My first stop was at the charming farm stand of Andy and Maria Noorenberghe, where I found the bell peppers and butternut squash I needed for my pie. They also had tempting baskets of tomatoes and other produce, but I managed to rein myself in and stick to my plan.
After that I continued west and stopped in Mount Brydges at the Cranberri Country Market. It’s filled to bursting with fresh and colourful produce, and I probably could have found everything I needed there. But my mission was to visit a few different places, so after a nice chat with the friendly people working in the shop I left with a bag of crisp green beans.
From there, I headed north to my next destination, the Corn Crib (just south of Strathroy). The maplesweet corn that I got there is so good that I went back the next day for more. I prefer a yellow sweet corn to peaches and cream, and the cobs at the Corn Crib were fresh, fat and full. They also carry a carefully curated selection of produce, and that’s where I found the potatoes I needed for the pie topping. (I also picked up a fun orange watermelon that I turned into lemonade with my granddaughters.)
After a trek northeast to near Ilderton, I arrived at Bloomers Family Farm , where they sell beef, chicken and eggs grown right on their farm. With my mission of getting frozen ground chicken accomplished, I couldn’t help but admire the gift selections of wooden signs and scented candles in the shop. It smelled so good in there! Had I not had two antsy Little Misses with me at the time, I might have spent more time browsing (and shopping, lol).
Chicken & Harvest Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie
Once I find a flavour combination I like, it’s fun to use it in different ways … like soups, salads and main dishes. I’m a big fan of the butternut squash and corn combination and thought it would be fun to translate those flavours to a harvest shepherd’s pie. Ground chicken makes a rich and flavourful base to showcase all the beautiful vegetables: golden squash, yellow corn, bright red pepper, flashes of green bean. The creamy (and buttery) white potato topping contrasts appealingly with the colourful vegetables.
Yes, making this pie takes some time for peeling and chopping. But who would mind when your labours yield such delicious and satisfying results? This is comfort food at its best: fresh, flavourful and local too.
Chicken & Harvest Vegetable Shepherd's Pie
© Marlene Cornelis, Urban Cottage Life.com 2017
This riff on a classic shepherd’s pie celebrates the late summer harvest in Middlesex County, Ontario, and likely where you live too. Corn and squash are the two must-have ingredients for me; you can play around with the other vegetables according to what you find at your local farm markets. Using ground chicken adds big flavour and richness to this pie, and adds a touch of the unexpected. Oh, and if you’re wondering why I cut the green beans so small, that’s to mimic the peas that are usually in shepherd’s pie. Cute, huh?
Note: If you plan ahead, you can make extra mashed potatoes a day or two ahead and have them ready to go in the refrigerator.
And one more note: like any recipe, make sure you read this one through before starting!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
For the Harvest Shepherd’s Pie Base
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup vegetable stock (chicken stock would also work)
- 2 1/2 cups diced butternut squash
- 3 cups maplesweet corn kernels (sliced off 3 cobs; see here for the technique*)
- 1 cup green beans, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1 tsp dried celery leaf
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 1 tsp dried basil
For the Potato Topping
- 1.5 lbs white potatoes (or other potato), peeled and cut into smallish chunks
- about 1/3 cup butter
- milk, as required
- 1.5 tsp salt
- freshly ground pepper
Start by prepping all the vegetables for the pie base, so the process of putting the dish together will go smoothly. Keep the peeled and cut potatoes covered with cold water until you’re ready to cook them.
*Note: I didn’t scrape the milk off the corn cobs for this shepherd’s pie as I was making soup at the same time and used it for that. If you’re only making this shepherd’s pie, then go ahead and scrape the cobs so none of that goodness goes to waste.)
Swirl the olive oil around a large, high-sided skillet over medium high heat and add the chicken. Mine was still mostly frozen, and that was just fine. Just turn the chicken, scraping off the cooked bits with a metal spatula as you go, and then stir and brown it. Break up any chunks so the mixture is fairly even in size. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated. If you wish, you can turn the browned chicken out into a sieve and press out any extra fat, but I didn’t do that.
Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic to the pan and stir until the onion looks translucent. Add the salt and pepper, too. At this point, there will be a golden brown crust on the bottom of the pan. That’s called the fond, and it’s treasure. Why? Because it’s all flavour. Add the stock and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan until the browned bits have come off and are incorporated into the chicken and aromatics mixture.
Now stir in the diced butternut squash, turn the heat to medium low and cover the pan. Simmer for about 15 minutes, checking it once or twice to make sure it’s not overheating and sticking to the pan. When the squash is nice and tender, but still retaining its individual dice, and almost all of the stock has been absorbed, add the corn, green beans and herbs. Stir well and cook for about five more minutes. By this point the chicken will be fully cooked, so you can taste the mixture and adjust the salt and pepper if you think it necessary.
Cook the potatoes while the butternut squash is simmering. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and add the butter, salt and pepper. Give them a rough mash, and then start adding milk, continuing to mash until you have a smooth and creamy texture.
Evenly distribute the pie base in a deep-dish 9-inch pie dish or a similarly sized casserole dish. Spread the mashed potatoes on top with a spatula, completely covering the pie filling.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are starting to turn golden brown in spots and the filling is bubbling and well-heated.
Serve hot, and enjoy the taste of a Middlesex County harvest!
Other Middlesex County Recipes
Over the past year I’ve developed four recipes for Middlesex County, showcasing produce from each season: Caramel Apple Crumble Squares, Prime Rib with Herb Sauce, Sugar Shack Maple Cupcakes and Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart. The eating is good in Middlesex County!