St. Patrick's Day brings out the Irish in countless Americans, many of whom have no Irish heritage. Green is the official color and at the bottom of the culinary scale great quantities of green-dyed beer will be consumed today. Much further up the ladder an Italian woman, with tongue in cheek, is serving her Irish husband and friends a green dinner that includes an Italian spinach soup and gree pasta.
The Irish have been uncharacteristically modest about their cooking, partially from male disinterest and partially because there has been a great deal to be modest about Irish soda bread, Dublin Bay prawns and Irish smoked salmon can be wonderful; so can corned beef and cabbage. But overcooking and underseasoning have done incalcuable damage over the years to the reputation of Irish cooks - except among those who like food overcooked and underseasoned.
Perhaps because they were so vital to a poor people living in a land with limited agricultural resources, potatoes are cooked simply. It was for the French to take them into the realm of fantasy and decoration. Cabbage is plentiful as well and is essential to a traditional St. Patrick's Day dish served in Ireland, boiled bacon and cabbage.
Another Irish dish that is both simple and appropriate to the season - with spring lamb due in markets soon - is Irish stew. Like an Irish story told with a twinkel in the eye and blarney on the tongue, the recipe has balloned far beyond it original dimensions. Frozen green peas scattered about, green as they are, do not make a real Irish stew. They are unauthenic as the dumplings that have splashed about in other charlatan stews I've encouraged. It is the purity of the recipe, as Richard Olney points out in his superb book "Simple French Food," that makes it potentially the most exquisite of all slow-cooked meat and potato combinations. While mutton or kid was the original meat, lamb is the logical choice for Americans. IRISH STEW (serves 4) 2 pounds thick-sliced lamb, either from shanks or leftover roast 2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced 1 pound onions, peeled and thinly sliced 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1/2 teaspoon dried leaft thyme Salt and pepper to taste Water, about 2 to 3 cups
Choose a heavy casserole. Begin with a layer of potatoes, add onion and lamb. Season as you go with herbs, salt and pepper. The final layer should be potatoes laid on thickly. Press down to compact layers, pour on water until ingredients are submerged. Add cover (and a piece of foil wrap if cover is not very tight) and cook for 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours in a 325-degree oven. Reduce heat if stew bubbles violently.
The final consistency should be thick, not soup-like.
If using chunks of lam, they may be arranged around the outside of the casserole with small potatoes, onions and seasonings placed in the center. BOILED BACON AND CABBAGE (Serves 4) 1 1/2 pounds slab bacon or ham, in a single piece 1 medium green cabbage, outer leaves removed and quartered Bread crumbs
Wash bacon and if very salty, steep in cold water for a few hours. Place in a saucepan and over with cold water. Bring slowly to boil and simmer for 1 hour. Remove, drain and when cooled sufficiently, cut away the rind. Place cabbage in cooking water, cover and boil rapidly 10 to 15 minutes, or until just tender. Meanwhile, sprinkle breadcrumbs over bacon and cook under a broiler unitl brown. Slice bacon and serve hot with freshly cooked cabbage.
-Adapted from "Recipes from Ireland" by Frances Mayville Bodin.
Due to the excessive cost of coffee this year, we offer the following as an alternative to the much admired beverage called Irish coffee. ISABEL McCARTHY'S IRISH COCOA (Makes 1 drink) 1 tablespoon cocoa 1 tablespoon sugar Pinch salt 1/3 cup water 1/2 cup milk 2 tablespoons Irish Whiskey 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur such as kahlua Whipped cream Grated chocolate (optional)
Stir cocoa, sugar, salt and water in saucepan. Add milk and cook stiring constantly, over low heat until cocoa is hot but not boiling.
In a warm, 12-ounce stemmed goblet pour whiskey and coffee liqueur. Fill to 1/2-inch from brim with hot cocoa, stir and top with whipped cream, garnished with grated chocolate.