My dad, who has lived in Santa Rosa for more than 40 years, is from Galway, Ireland, and the home in which he was born is older than the United States. (I was a teenager when I first heard this extraordinary fact, and I was awestruck.) So many of the foods and traditions we enjoy here around St. Patrick’s Day resonate with me. Like all cultural holidays, this one offers the opportunity to embrace the link between generations and countries and to share the joys of my heritage with my children and friends.
Serving corned beef and cabbage on March 17 may be a foregone conclusion here in the U.S., but it isn’t a traditional Irish meal. (I’m not complaining though. I like everything about corned beef.) Instead, roast chicken or boiling bacon (Irish-style bacon made from the pork shoulder and similar to ham) are common meals for the day, and potatoes and soda bread are non-negotiable.
In my dad’s youth, food was still cooked using the fireplace. They made soda bread by placing hot coals on the hearth, then resting the pan of doughy goodness on top to bake. My mom’s recipe for raisin soda bread, made with a mixture of all-purpose flour and oatmeal, raisins and caraway seeds, reflects different regional takes on the bread — her mother’s family was from Tipperary, her father’s was from Cavan.
And decoupling potatoes from the history of the people of Ireland is impossible. Ireland may once have been known as a land of overly-boiled, under-seasoned foods, but it’s enjoying plenty of culinary glory now — and it still exalts the potato. I recall a trip to a pizzeria in County Cork. We ordered our pizza and were served a great mound of boiled spuds alongside. It was an unexpected and yet unforgettable combination.
For the holiday, I serve colcannon, a recipe that is as delicious as it is comforting. The potato-based dish has many variations but generally includes cabbage or kale along with butter and cream. The addition of leeks or scallions is tasty, and substituting ham for bacon is welcome, too.
Guinness is clearly a festive front-runner for a pairing with your feast, but wine works well, too. Rosé goes perfectly with all the fatty deliciousness of the meal – a chilled glass of fruity pink rosé bursting with strawberry flavor will brighten everything on the plate. And a Sonoma County pinot noir’s earthy tones will complement the cabbage while the soft tannins enhance the beef. Plus, serving a bottle of wine will encourage diners to linger over the meal as they sip, take a bite and sip again.
Serves 4 to 6
2 to 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and halved
4 to 5 slices of bacon, finely chopped
1 small head Savoy cabbage, finely shredded
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Add potatoes to large saucepan of water and bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender (approximately 15 minutes).
Meanwhile, fry chopped bacon and cabbage in a skillet. Set aside.
When the potatoes are tender, drain them and mash them until smooth.
Heat cream and butter in a small saucepan, then add to mashed potatoes. Add bacon and cabbage and mix through. Serve hot.
Bay Area food writer Christine Moore is co-owner of Santa Rosa’s Teac Mor winery. Learn more and find more recipes at her blog, WriteYum.
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