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An Irish Supper for Saint Patty’s Day

Cooked Bacon and Cabbage (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Wednesday is St. Patrick’s Day –a celebration of all things Irish. March 17 commemorates the anniversary of Patrick’s death in the fifth century, after bringing the Gospel to Ireland.

During the mid-19th century, more than a million Irish immigrants came to the United States to escape the potato famine. More came later — almost 5 million Irish immigrants have come to America since 1820. Even if you’re not one of the 40 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry, you may find yourself wearing green and dining on corned beef and cabbage.

In Ireland, St. Pat’s is not a cultural holiday but a religious feast day, like Easter or Christmas. Irish families attend Mass in the morning then celebrate with dancing, drinking and feasting on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage – a simple dish with bacon, potatoes, and cabbage, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper — in the afternoon.

Rooted in a less affluent past, traditional Irish cuisine is simple, hearty peasant fare. Most folks had backyard gardens where they grew vegetables and raised pigs. Prior to the introduction of the potato in the 17th century they ate oats, barley, and millet. And they raised pigs and sheep.

Cabbage is native to Ireland and the British Isles. Oleracea var cytodeme still grows wild on the Atlantic coast of the islands, thriving in the mild, moist climate. Economic historian Cormac Grda writes in Ireland: A New Economic History that before the arrival of the potato, 65 pounds of cabbage (on average) was consumed annually by each citizen of the Emerald Isle.

Many Americans find cabbage smelly and tasteless. But properly prepared, cabbage is sweet, mild and delicious. It is a tasty, healthy, common staple and main ingredient in ethnic dishes throughout central, eastern and northern Europe.

One cup of shredded raw cabbage has just 24 calories yet supplies more than half the daily requirement for vitamin C, as well as ample amounts of A and B vitamins. Cabbage stimulates the immune system, improves circulation, lowers cholesterol, and kills harmful bacteria. It has the most health benefits when eaten raw or made into sauerkraut and not canned.

Spanish Conquistadors brought South American potatoes to Europe in the mid-16th century. In 1770, a grain failure helped make the potato a popular crop, with large and reliable yields. By the early 19th century, the typical Irish peasant ate many pounds of potatoes each day.

Potatoes are a good source of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and protein. One potato has more iron than a 3-ounce hamburger and more potassium than a banana. One serving — one-third pound, or about one medium potato — has only 100 calories, yet provides 45% of the RDA for Vitamin C (although much of that is lost through heat of cooking), 21% of the RDA for potassium, 3 grams of fiber, and 15% of RDA for vitamin B6 with no fat or cholesterol. The potato also contains glutathione, an antioxidant that helps protect against some types of cancer.

Pork is a popular meat in Ireland, because pigs are easier to raise than other livestock. Irish bacon is a much leaner cut of meat than American bacon. In Ireland, “bacon” refers to any joint of pork except the leg, which is ham. Made from the back of the pig, it includes the loin and is also called back bacon. Smoked pork belly fat — which North Americans call bacon – is known as “rashers” in Ireland. Irish bacon is leaner and meatier than American bacon. It is not smoked, but instead cured, like ham, and is similar to Canadian bacon. It is not crisped, like American bacon, but is cooked and sliced, like ham. You could also use a pork loin (uncooked) in lieu of Canadian bacon (which is expensive) and cook it longer, about an hour, since it is raw and not cured.

Irish bacon and cabbage is a satisfying, nourishing dish common in the Irish countryside. There are different ways of making it; the dish can be boiled or fried. The basic ingredients are potatoes, cabbage and pork – but other greens, onions, or apples can be added.

Irish Granny’s Fried Cabbage with variations

Basic Ingredients:

6 – 8 strips bacon

2 – 3 potatoes

1/2 head cabbage

Optional ingredients:

1 onion; 1 apple; Irish bacon, Canadian bacon or ham in place of some or all of the bacon

Directions:

Cut bacon into 2-inch pieces.

Place in large skillet or shallow pot with a lid and cook until crisp and brown.

Peel potatoes and chop in 1 or 2 inch pieces.

Wash and core the cabbage. Cut in 2 – inch cubes.

When bacon is cooked, add potatoes and diced onion, if using. Let them brown a little in the bacon fat.

Cook a couple minutes, then add cabbage and cored, diced apples (if using).

Cook on low, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Then add a half-cup of water or broth, cover and cook on medium heat about ten more minutes or until everything is desired tenderness.

Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired.

Serves 2 – 3.

Other optional add-ins: diced ham, Hot dogs, Andoulli sausage, kielbasa

For a vegetarian option, cook the potatoes and cabbage in olive oil. Add more broth or water to braise the vegetables.

Make a sauce:

1/3 cup sour cream

1 Tablespoon flour

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup broth

1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 cup fresh minced dill or parsley

In a small saucepan, combine sour cream and flour. Gradually stir in milk and broth. Stir in salt and paprika. Heat, stirring, until thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in fresh dill or parsley.

Pour over cooked potatoes and cabbage and stir to combine.

For a vegan option, make a cheese sauce with vegetable broth, nut milk, vegan cheese and flour or cornstarch.

Cooked Bacon and Cabbage

Ingredients:

1 lb. Irish bacon or Canadian bacon

4 bay leaves

4 grains allspice

1 Tablespoon butter

1 medium onion

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 – 3 large potatoes

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 head Savoy cabbage

1 or 2 carrots

1 parsnip

Directions:

Place bacon in saucepan with bay leaves and allspice grains. Cover with water, and bring to boil over moderate heat. Skim foam from surface. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes. Remove onto a plate, let cool, cut into 1″ chunks and set aside. Reserve broth and spices.

While bacon is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Core the cabbage, cut into 1″ pieces. Scrub carrot and parsnip, slice and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy soup kettle over medium-low heat. Peel and chop onion; sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring, 3 – 5 minutes or until translucent. Peel potatoes, dice and add. Cook another 2 minutes. Add reserved stock from cooking bacon together with bay leaves and allspice berries. Add reserved vegetables and sprinkle in pepper. Simmer about 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.

Serve meat with vegetables and sauce. (Reserve broth for soup later).

Or serve as a stew: ladle into bowls, then add the chopped meat and top with sauce.

Serves 3 – 4.

Parsley sauce:

1 bunch fresh parsley

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup flour

Chop parsley and set aside.

Place milk and flour in quart jar. Shake well to combine. Transfer to saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring so it does not burn or boil over. When it comes to a simmer, and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, stir in parsley and cook another minute. This can be made ahead.

Mustard sauce:

1 Tablespoon butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2/3 cup dry white wine

2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard

1 cup milk

Salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in wine and mustard, bring to a simmer and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup broth from soup kettle and the 1 cup milk. Bring to a boil; cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.

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