My grandmother’s Irish heritage showed up in her hilariously salty sense of humor and in her cooking. As prolific as the jokes were, however, she could only cook one thing: a baked potato. But it was irresistibly delicious. Her secret was simple. She just added half a stick of butter to each potato and mashed it in its skin. Next to the overcooked meat patty and the canned wax beans, the potato shone like a pot of gold.
It wasn’t until I went to Ireland that I celebrated my own connection to the country. As a child growing up in Manhattan, St. Patrick’s Day was a little scary. We lived at the end of the parade route and the trip home from school was an obstacle course of drunken merrymakers, regurgitated green beer and invitations to “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”.
But after my honeymoon at Ashford Castle, where The Quiet Man was filmed, I was a committed holiday celebrant. We mark the holiday with pints of Guinness and Colcannon, a delicious mixture of cabbage, leeks and potatoes.
The dish couldn’t be easier to make and is the perfect seasonal recipe. Colcannon is a favorite of locavore chefs, trying to adhere to the growing calendar. Just before the spring vegetables appear, when every root vegetable and hardy member of the cabbage family has been boiled, steamed, roasted or pureed, this is a delicious amalgamation of both categories.
Colcannon used to be served on Halloween when charms were hidden in large dishes of it, portending a marriage proposal to the lucky lass who found one in her bowl. Some desperate girls even put a spoonful in a sock to hang on the handle of the front door. Pity the poor eligible bachelor whose hand missed the knob and reached for the sock.
Forgoing charms and footwear, I recommend you serve your colcannon as a side dish or on its own with a green salad instead of green beer. And make it a Harp or a Guinness. With that tall glass, a Gaelic toast to your health this St. Patrick’s Day: “Sláinte!”
• 1 head green cabbage, quartered and sliced in ¼ inch pieces
• 1 lb potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold)
• 2 leeks, washed and sliced in ¼ inch pieces
• 1 cup milk
• 5 Tbs. butter
• 2 scallions, sliced
• Salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil potatoes in salted water. I boil them whole and peel when they are cool enough to handle. (Salt the water until it tastes like the sea.)
2. Steam sliced cabbage until soft. You can use some of the potato water. Drain.
3. Slice leeks and gently sauté slowly in 1 Tablespoon butter until soft.
4. Add the rest of the butter and milk to the leeks. Gently heat until butter is melted and milk is warm.
5. Pass potatoes through a ricer or use a masher
6. Add hot milk, butter and leek mixture to potatoes
7. Stir in cabbage
8. Add sliced scallions
9. Season with salt and pepper
Note: Some chopped dill would be a nice addition, as would a half-cup of sautéed and crumbled bacon.