Today’s recipe for a Whole30 ground turkey and cauliflower cottage pie really is an embodiment of what Whole30 should be about — adapting your favorite foods into cleaner, better ways of eating. We’re almost through our Whole30, the 30-day elimination diet that refocuses your metabolism and helps you figure out a healthier way of eating. What it means in reality is that you can really only eat fruit, meats and vegetables (and no alcohol, refined sugar, grains or legumes). This Whole30 ground turkey and cauliflower cottage pie is the lighter, healthier adaptation of a classic British dish that has become a family favorite since we moved to London.
Cottage pie in its classic form is a tomato sauce-based mixture of ground beef, carrots, celery and peas with creamy mashed potatoes slathered on top. It’s not a quick dish to make, but it’s pretty straightforward — you make the ground beef sauce first, then layer it into a 9×13 dish and coat it with a thick layer of mashed potatoes. The whole casserole bakes in the oven for 30-40 minutes and when it emerges, bubbly on the edges with hints of crusty, golden-browned ribbons of potato dancing along the surface, it’s all you can do to keep from just diving in on the spot. But be forewarned: not letting cottage pie cool sufficiently enough before tucking in can cause some serious tongue burn. I may or may not have experience in this regard.
My Whole30 ground turkey and cauliflower cottage pie makes two important changes: first, I use ground turkey instead of ground beef both for a lighter flavor and less calories; and secondly, I significantly reduce the amount of potato, using a whipped cauliflower puree (stiffened with just a few potatoes) to serve as the topping.
My kids gobble up this dish — the veggie and ground turkey mixture tastes a little bit like chili without the beans, and the cauliflower topping is a great vehicle for soaking up the juices that rise up and bubble over while the cottage pie cooks in the oven. I love this dish especially when the weather is cold outside — it’s hearty, comforting and, most importantly, filling without being heavy.
I challenge moms with fussy eaters to give this recipe a whirl. Ground meat (especially ground beef) is one of the ingredients I consistently use to feed my little hunger monsters at home — it’s economical and easy to prepare in a variety of different dishes, from tacos to meatloaf to chili. The cottage pie is just another way of delivering essentially the same ingredients, with a little more veggie packed in.
If you’ve never made cottage pie before, I’d give yourself a weekend to try out this recipe. It’s definitely a time-consuming one to prep, but you can assemble the dish on the weekend while watching “How I Met Your Mother” reruns and then bake it after work during the weekday. While the Whole30 ground turkey and cauliflower cottage pie is baking in the oven, you can do other things, like make a side salad or drink wine with your eyes half-closed. Whatever works, right?
- 1.5 pounds ground turkey (turkey mince)
- 3 medium carrots, chopped
- 1 celery stick, chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 heads cauliflower, roughly chopped (both stalks and florets)
- 4 baby potatoes (about ½ pound), peeled and cut into 1.5" pieces
- 2 tablespoons plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons clarified butter, melted or ghee (do not use coconut oil)
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ cup tomato paste (plus more for thickening, if necessary)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for season
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 2 cups fresh English peas, shelled (use frozen baby peas if you can't find fresh)
- optional: finely diced fresh chives, for garnish
- Grease a 9x13 baking dish with olive oil (using a pastry brush or paper towel); set aside.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add onions and gently saute until somewhat soft (this will take about 10 minutes, so you can move on to the other steps below and continue to keep an eye on the onions and stir every once in awhile).
- When the onions are soft, add the celery and carrots and continue to cook over medium low heat until the carrots are soft and the celery is translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook for one more minute. Remove from heat and add the vegetables to a stockpot. Using a paper towel, clean out the skillet and return it to the stove (more on this later).
- While the vegetables are cooking, put the potatoes into a pot and cover them with salted water, then place a lid on the pot. Heat the pot until the water is boiling and continue to cook the potatoes until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Remove the potatoes from the water and set aside.
- Return the water to boiling and add the cauliflower. Boil for about 5-10 minutes until the cauliflower is soft enough to be easily pierced by a fork. Drain the cauliflower into a colander and set the colander with the cauliflower still in it back into the pot. Add the potatoes to the colander. Put the pot on a cool part of the stove or on a trivet and let the cauliflower dry. This is called steam drying and is a very important step in making the cauliflower puree -- you need the cauliflower to be almost completely dry before making the puree, or it will be too watery.
- In the same skillet that you cooked the vegetables, brown the ground turkey in another tablespoon of olive oil over high heat in batches until all of the turkey is cooked through. Add the turkey to the stock pot with the cooked vegetables. Add the bay leaf, balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, salt and pepper and chicken stock and heat everything on medium high heat until it's simmering. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer for 25-30 minutes until everything is well incorporated and reduced into a meat sauce.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (if you are making the cottage pie right away).
- Once the cauliflower and potatoes are pretty dry to the touch, pour the potatoes and cauliflower into a food processor with another tablespoon of olive oil and the butter and puree the mixture by pulsing it (don't turn it on auto or it might get too liquidy). You may have to do this in batches. Taste the cauliflower and potato mixture, then add salt and pepper to taste.
- Once the ground turkey mixture has simmered and reduced into a glossy sauce, stir the peas through the sauce and pour the mixture into the 9x13 baking dish. Spread the ground turkey mixture evenly across the bottom of the dish, then drop spoonfuls of the cauliflower and potato mixture on top all over the ground turkey. Using a rubber spatula, spread the cauliflower and potato mixture evenly across the top. At this point, you can cover the dish and refrigerate it for up to 2 days before baking, or continue to the next step.
- Bake the cottage pie in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the sides are browned and bubbly. Let stand for 10-15 minutes, then serve.