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Food

Recipe: Colcannon, a Classic Irish Medley of Potatoes, Greens

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, the potatoes, corned beef and cabbage are piled high in the supermarkets.

Millions of Americans claim some Irish ancestry and honor the patron saint of Ireland on March 17. But the holiday has an inclusive feel, and you don’t need to be Irish to celebrate.

One traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish is colcannon, a classic Irish medley of potatoes and greens.

Potatoes were and remain one of the central foods of Irish cooking, and this dish celebrates the humble tuber with the addition of milk and cream, as well as whatever green vegetables and members of the onion family are available.

According to an old Irish cookbook called “Feasting Galore,” published in 1952 and written by Maura Laverty: “a heaped portion” of colcannon is served on each plate. “A well is made in the center of the heap to hold a generous lump of butter. The colcannon is eaten from around the outside of the heap, each person dipping his fork first into the colcannon and then into the melting butter. The perfect companion to a class of colcannon is a glass of fresh buttermilk.”

(Also according to the old cookbook, “in the Midlands colcannon is called “Thump” and in the North and West it is called “Champ.”)

There are a whole lot of opinions on the right way to make colcannon.

The potatoes are non-negotiable, though what they are mashed with (milk, cream, butter, scallions, onions) is up for discussion. It’s the greens that are cause for debate. Many recipes call for cabbage, another vegetable that sustained the Irish people for many years. Other recipes (even some very old ones) call for kale or other greens.

I have made colcannon with both, and frankly, I don’t know which I like better – so I made a version that combines them. The point is that in Ireland they would have made this dish with whatever was available, so we can use whatever greens make sense for our colcannon on St. Patrick’s Day (or any other day some classic Irish comfort food is warranted.)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

COLCANNON

Kosher salt for cooking the potatoes, plus 1 teaspoon more, or to taste

2 pounds Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, divided

½ cup whole milk

½ cup light or heavy cream or half and half (see Note)

½ cup sliced scallions or chopped onion

1/2 pound kale, tough stems removed, rinsed well, drained and sliced thinly into ribbons

½ pound shredded cabbage

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add a generous amount of salt, return to a boil, then add the potatoes (the water should cover the potatoes by at least 2 inches.) Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium, and continue to simmer for 20 or so minutes, partially covered, until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a knife.

2. While the potatoes cook, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add the kale and cabbage, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables have wilted and are lightly golden in some spots. Meanwhile, heat the milk and the cream together with the scallions in a pot over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

3. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and return them to the pot, and place the pot back over medium-low heat. Toss the potatoes in the hot pan occasionally for 3 minutes or so until they have begun to dry out (but not to brown). Remove the pan from the stove, and put the potatoes through a ricer, or mash with a potato masher until they are smooth, or as smooth as you like them. Return them to the pot.

4. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 4 tablespoons of the butter, and the hot milk and cream mixture to the potatoes and stir with a wooden spoon or a whisk until well combined. Add the kale and cabbage mixture, season with black pepper to taste, and stir until the vegetables are well blended with the potatoes.

5. Serve the colcannon in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the colcannon, and put the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the center of the well to melt. Alternately you can make a mound on each person’s plate, create a small well in the center, and add a bit of butter to each portion.

Note: If you don’t feel like using the creamier items here, or you don’t have them in the house, just add another ½ cup of whole milk and call it a day.

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