Viking Bowls for French Onion Soup (And Shepherd’s Pie Recipe)

Last year I posted a recipe for French Onion Soup – a real favourite with us this time of year.  With a great supply of onions hanging in the shed and longer nights, it’s the perfect comfort evening meal.  Yes, a meal – if I make this for dinner that’s it!  A hearty bowl of this soup and a nice warm glass of red wine.

I’ve never found just the right bowl for this dish and been on the lookout for years.  Standard bowls are too wide on top and may not withstand the hot grilling at the end.  The perfect vessel for me would be a fairly narrow earthenware bowl where the base is roughly the same width as the surface but with a tulip narrowing towards the surface.

Last year at the Roscommon Lamb Festival a Historical Reinactment Group camped on the grounds of Roscommon Castle.  They were dressed in costume, slept in canvas tents, show-cased some medieval skills and battles and we, the public, were invited to wander around their camp.   A small camp that got my attention was inhabited by potter Jaqui Wright.  She makes replicas of archeological pottery discoveries.  It was here I came across her “new” range of pottery made with black Viking clay.  They are hand-shaped and then fired.  She glazed the inside of the bowls and mugs, although the glazing step wouldn’t have happened back with the hardy Vikings.  In fact, they would have eaten/drunk everything out of the one vessel and were not fussed, I’m sure, about cross-contamination.

I ordered 6 bowls from Jaqui that day.  She said it would be a few months and she would phone me.

So I was very excited a couple of months ago when she phoned me to say they were ready.  She lives in quite a rural part of the country – in county Sligo but very near the Roscommon border.  Jaqui does not do mobile phones, email, or websites so she gave me good, old-fashioned directions to her house.  I got lost on the way (my fault, because I do find, if you really take instructions litereally, people generally give perfect directions to their houses – I did a lot of home calls in my previous job as a community dietitian) but did find her secluded dwelling where she creates all this fabulous pottery.

The bowls are just what I wanted.  They’re beautifully rustic, oddly shaped and very pre-old worldy.  They look quite stone-age on my dresser with glassware and delicate china coffee cups but I love them!  Perfect French onion soup vessels, they have the added bonus of being oven-proof and are great for individual pies.

Jacqui Wright, Pottery Design’s contact number is 071-9182022 and here’s a site telling you some more about the Historical Reinactment Group.


Traditional Shepherd’s Pie with Root Vegetable Topping:

For 4-6.  Make individual pies or a large dish of it.


1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 carrots, finely diced

500g minced lamb

200ml lamb or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons tomato puree

few dashes Worchester sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme leaves

salt & pepper


Root Vegetable Mash:

3 medium potatoes, peeled & halved

1 carrot, peeled & chopped into 2.5cm chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped into 6cm chunks

1/4 turnip, peeled and chopped into 2.5cm chunks

1 tablespoon butter

dash milk

Salt & pepper


Preheat the oven to 190 C.


For the meat:

Heat the oil in a wide frying or sauce-pan.  Add the onions and carrots.  Season with salt and cover to sweat over  a low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes until soft.  Remove the lid and increase the heat to high.  Add the lamb and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring often over a high heat.  Continue cooking until the lamb is browned all over.  Add the tomato puree, Worchester sauce, balsamic vinegar, honey, thyme and stock.  Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer gently for 20 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and add more honey or Worchester sauce as needed.


For the topping:

While this is happening, cover the prepared vegetables for the topping in a large saucepan with just enough cold water.  Bring to the boil with a lid and cook gently until the vegetables are tender.  Drain the water off fully and return the saucepan to the heat.  Add the milk and butter, salt and pepper.  Heat the milk fully before mashing the vegetables together.


To assemble:

Lay the meat sauce in the base of your serving dish.  Spoon the mash on top and spread it out to cover the meat.  You can make a design on the top with a fork and brush with melted butter or top with grated cheese.  Bake until the mash is golden and the meat is bubbling underneath.  Serve with a green salad or extra green vegetables.  …… plus tomato ketchup: “Tacky but good” as Jamie would say.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dragonslayer95 on December 6, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Great bowls Sarah! I’m sure the head gardener would love them 🙂


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