Irish favorites for St. Patrick's Day

March 12, 2014 

St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, and that's certainly cause for celebration for most.

St. Patrick's Day has been a holiday since the early 17th century, but it also is a feast day when the Lenten restrictions on food and drink are held in abeyance. For both reasons St. Patrick's Day has broad appeal.

In America, we think of corned beef and cabbage as the go-to menu for the special day, but the original Irish immigrants would have been eating ham or bacon with cabbage.

As is often the case, this holiday has been Americanized. Colcannon, boxty, which is a potato pancake; and coddle, a mixture of sausages, bacon and potatoes, are more traditional, but mostly unknown in this country. These are hearty and delicious recipes that are worth exploring, but colcannon deserves a special consideration. How many recipes do you know of that have poetry written about them?

Colcannon is a lovely mixture of mashed potatoes (what better comfort food is there?) and kale, a super healthy green vegetable. Top it off with creamy butter, and you've got a meal fit for the foulest day, or bleakest times. Here's a bit of the verse to get you in the mood.

"Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?

"With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.

"Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake

"Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?"

St. Patrick's Day can be a fun day to celebrate all things Irish. Gather your friends about you, offer them a hearty meal to go with a glass of Guinness

and you're sure to have a fine time.

COLCANNON

This recipe was borrowed from the Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, which has a very interesting website (www.boardbia.ie). Check it out.

2-3 pounds peeled russet potatoes

1 bunch fresh kale

1 cup milk

1/2 cup butter

Salt and pepper as necessary

Cut the potatoes into quarters, then simmer in salted water until they are done, fork test to be sure, but it should take about 15-20 minutes. When the fork can easily pierce the potatoes they are done. Drain and set aside, but keep warm. Add 2-3 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of water to a large sauce pot over medium heat, whisk until melted, and the water has been incorporated. Now add the kale, toss, cover and cook for 1 minute on high heat, toss again and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper. Drain the potatoes, slowly add the milk and mash until smooth. You can do this with a fork, or a hand held blender. Add the kale and mix in well by hand.

Serve in a large bowl, family style, and top with plenty of fresh, sweet butter.

Colcannon can be served as a side dish, but that seems such a waste. This dish is so fortifying and satisfying it deserves to served on its own as a main course.

POTATO SOUP

Potato soup is a main stay in potato-loving Ireland. The quality of the bacon will make a big difference, and if you want to add a little kick, add a pinch or two of red pepper flakes.

4-6 baking potatoes, russets would be good

1- 1/2 stick of butter

2/3 cup flour

2 quarts farm fresh milk (see you Saturday morning farmers market)

2 cloves minced garlic

1 cup sour cream

4-6 chopped green onions

1 cup crispy, chopped bacon

2 cups grated cheddar cheese (try white Irish cheddar)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the potatoes for about 45 minutes, test with a fork to be sure they are done, then remove and set aside to cool. Make a roux by melting the butter in a large sauté pan, whisk in the flour and cook until it is a pale golden color. Just before it is done add the garlic. Slowly pour the milk in, whisking as you go so it stays smooth. Chop the baked potatoes, leaving on the skins is a personal decision, if you like the skins, keep them, if you don't, discard them. Add the potato to the hot sauce, whisking until smooth, or use an immersion blender, but don't overdo it. Add the sour cream, bacon and cheese, heat thoroughly and serve piping hot. Garnish with the green onions just before serving.

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

Alton Brown has a good recipe for making your own corned beef, but it takes 10 days. Buy one at the grocery if you don't have the time and patience.

1 prepackaged corned beef

2 pounds halved red potatoes

1 chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1 green cabbage

Black pepper as needed

Prepare the corned beef according to the package directions, it should take just over 2 hours to cook. When it is done add the potatoes, carrots, onion and celery and simmer for 20 minutes, add the cabbage, cut into large wedges, and simmer 15 minutes more, or just until the cabbage is done. Slice the corned beef against the grain, serve in large soup bowls, with plenty of cabbage and stock. Serve with hearty dark bread.

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