My maiden name is Coleman, and so, at least on my Dad’s side, I’m an Irish lass. There are famous singers, pub owners and all kinds of Emerald Isle folk with the name Coleman. In my house, Christmas actually paled in comparison to St. Pat’s Day. It only got more interesting as my Dad got older and found a company that could supply his “Coat of Arms.” During the last quarter of his life, he regularly dyed his snow-white hair green every March 17—and for several days after, as long as the parties continued. He could be quite an enchanting little leprechaun.
In 1994, my husband Don ran the Dublin Marathon, and we spent about nine days getting to know this magical land and its amazingly friendly and kind people. It’s true, you know, the island is green… as green as my dad’s hair.
Of course once I’d been to Ireland, attended a couple of high teas, had real Irish oats for breakfast (never use anything but McCann’s now) and stuffed myself with warm brown bread topped with butter scooped out of bowls, I became extremely interested in cooking Irish food.
Fresh is the first word I’d use to describe it—the dairy, the meat, the fish, the vegetables are right off the farms and out of the sea. Food is valued there (There was that Potato Famine, 1845-1852.). Irish cooking is steeped in tradition, and its chefs and home cooks are committed to artisan, by-hand production. We could learn a thing or two from Celtic wisdom.
Of all the dishes I’ve made to celebrate my Irish heritage, Colcannon—a simple potatoes and cabbage dish—has remained the family favorite. At its most basic preparation, it’s nothing more than mashed potatoes, boiled cabbage or kale, and some scallions. Well, maybe a bit’o butter and cream. And it’s really good, just like that. But I couldn’t leave that alone. Elevating Colcannon became a quest.
- Four to five pounds russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, thoroughly washed and cut in uniform chunks (Traditionally, potatoes for Colcannon are peeled, but I can’t bring myself to waste the nutrients, so I don’t peel. You decide. However, I always insist on organic.)
- Three to four cups shredded cabbage (Red cabbage has more antioxidants but for St. Pat’s it’s gotta be green.)
- About eight garlic scapes (This is totally my own touch. Original Colcannon doesn’t even have garlic, as far as I can tell, but I think it is a great addition, especially since I still have scapes in my freezer from last spring. Time to use them up! If you don’t have scapes, use four or five large cloves of chopped garlic. Or, replace the yellow onion below with a big bunch of green onions, including their green tops.)
- One large yellow onion, chopped
- Four to five tablespoons olive oil
- One-half cup whole milk, cream or almond milk (I’ve used all of these at one time or another, always with success. Cream, however, is the favorite.)
- Two tablespoons unsalted butter
- One-half cup quality goat cheese (a Green Gal addition)
- One-third to one-half cup Kerry Gold Dubliner white cheddar (Another Green Gal addition; Parmigiano-Reggiano also works great as a topping cheese.)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Fresh herbs
- There are three basic steps to this dish: create the onion and cabbage sauté, boil and mash the potatoes, mix the two and bake.
- Begin with the sauté. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. I use my 12” chef skillet for this so there is plenty of heated surface space. Add the garlic scapes and onion and a generous dash or two of sea salt. Cook over medium heat until very tender and slightly caramelized, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the shredded cabbage, more salt to taste and continue to cook until everything has cooked down and is shiny and tender, maybe another 15 to 20 minutes. Once the sauté is finished, cover with a lid and set aside.
- As you are making your sauté, you can bring your potatoes to a boil in a large pot of cold, slightly salted water—like you do to make traditional mashed potatoes. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes after the water comes to a boil.
- Once the potatoes are tender, drain off the liquid, reserving about a half cup, in case you need it to help thin the mash. Using a real, old-fashioned potato masher (no mixers!), mash your potatoes, adding the butter and the goat cheese as you go so that they melt and incorporate. Now add the cream and begin to stir the potatoes with a big spoon. If still too stiff, add a little potato water by spoonfuls—be mindful not to get the mash too thin. Having small chunks of potato is just fine, in my opinion. Now add your sauté and combine well. Give it a taste, blend in salt and pepper, along with your choice of fresh herbs—chives or parsley are favorites.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Transfer your potato and cabbage mixture to a 13 x 9 casserole dish that has been coated with cooking spray or butter. Cover with foil and bake for about a half hour to 40 minutes, so that the casserole is heated through. (I have often covered my casserole and put it in the frig until about an hour before dinner. Handy if you’d like to prepare ahead.)
- Remove from the oven, remove the foil and top with grated cheddar. Return to the oven for about 10 minutes until the cheese on top melts and starts to brown.
- Serve while piping hot to very hungry people.
Leftover Colcannon can be put in a covered dish in the frig and reheated in a small casserole dish coated with cooking spray or butter. I'd reheat at about 300 for 20 minutes to make sure it gets hot but does not dry out. You could also add in a little cream or butter to ensure a moist texture.
In my mind, the C in comfort is for Colcannon. It’s rich but homey. It dresses up or dresses down with finesse. The texture of the finished dish is light and airy while the flavor is rich and buttery. My daughter loved it when she was little and still does—what a sneaky way to get her to eat cabbage, don’t ya know? I hope you love it, too. In honor of my Dad and the great people of Ireland—Happy St. Patrick’s Day!