The message Darina Allen has been delivering to the American media for at least a decade remains the same: Corned beef and cabbage is not standard holiday fare in Ireland, and the white or brown soda bread baked for the occasion does not contain raisins or caraway seeds.
Allen is also head of Slow Food Ireland and has been instrumental in getting gardens planted for Irish schoolchildren as well as sending chickens and coops to local schools there. Although she’d have to readjust her schedule, she would love to visit the White House vegetable garden before she goes home. (How about it, Sam Kass?)
If we want to eat something truly traditional for St. Patrick’s, Allen says save the corned beef for another day and keep things simple. Saute cabbage in a little bit of butter and water. Add bits of crisped bacon and maybe a little fresh thyme. Or champ – mashed potatoes with scallions stirred in – “with a big lovely hunk of butter melting in the center.”
The flavor of this quickly cooked cabbage has been a revelation for many, and has converted many determined cabbage haters back to Ireland’s national vegetable, says Darina Allen.
1 head (about 1 pound) Savoy cabbage, tough or wilted outer leaves removed (may substitute Napa cabbage)
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a dab for serving
2 strips raw bacon
Freshly ground black pepper
Leaves from 1 small bunch thyme, chopped (3 tablespoons; optional)
Cut the cabbage lengthwise in half and then each of those sections in half, to create 4 sections. Cut out and discard the core in each section, then cut each section on the diagonal into very thin slices (so the cabbage appears to be shredded).
Combine the water and butter in a large wide saute pan over high heat. When it comes to a boil, add a pinch of salt, then add the cabbage. Use tongs to toss constantly so the cabbage is moistened, then cover for a few minutes so the cabbage wilts.
Meanwhile, line a plate with a few layers of paper towels. Place the bacon in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook until crisp on both sides, then transfer to the paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
Uncover the cabbage and toss a few times, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
Cut the bacon crosswise into bite-size pieces. Add to the cabbage, along with the thyme if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl, tossing to incorporate; garnish with a dab of butter. Serve warm.