Ingredients 3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped into about 1cm (1⁄2in) cubes
200g piece of swede, chopped into about 1cm (1⁄2in) cubes
125g dried red lentils
400g can plum tomatoes
1 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
350ml vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
85g fresh spinach, chopped
900g smooth potatoes, such as Desiree or Estima, peeled and cut into large chunks, about 5cm
5 tbsp full-fat or semi-skimmed milk
140g mature Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
Essential kit You will need: 1.7–2 litre (3–31⁄2 pint) baking dish, about 25 x 18cm (10 x 7in) and 7.5cm (3in) deep.
Method Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, non-stick saute pan. Add the onions and garlic and fry for 8–10 minutes over a medium–high heat or until starting to turn golden, stirring occasionally. Pour the remaining tablespoon of oil into the pan, tip in the carrots and swede, and fry for 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, sun-dried tomato paste, and stock. Season and simmer, covered, for 35–40 minutes over a low heat, until the carrots and swede are tender and the lentils have softened.
Remove from the heat, stir in the spinach, and let it wilt. Check the sauce’s consistency (see below, Moist, juicy filling). Pour the mixture into the baking dish. Leave to cool. Preheat the oven to 200oC (fan 180oC/400oF/Gas 6).
Put the potatoes into a large pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, add salt, and simmer for 15–20 minutes or until tender. Drain well. Put the butter and milk in the pan and warm through over a low heat. Remove from the heat, return the potatoes to the pan, and mash with the milk and butter, then whisk until smooth (see below, Smooth, creamy mash). Season, then stir in the cheese.
Spread the mash over the filling (see below, Decorative topping). Bake for 30–40 minutes until golden and bubbling.
Moist, juicy filling The filling should be moist with plenty of sauce, but not sloppy. Add 2–3 tablespoons of water if it’s too dry. Leave the filling to cool before adding the topping, as it will support the mash better.
Smooth, creamy mash The potatoes are ready for mashing when a knife goes in easily. If undercooked, the mash will be lumpy; if overcooked, it will be sloppy. Mash the potatoes with hot milk and butter off the heat, then whisk with a balloon whisk.
Decorative topping Spoon the cheesy, seasoned mash over the cooled vegetable and lentil layer. Spread it evenly over the surface, making patterns like furrows with a round-bladed knife to create an attractive, textured effect.