Monday, October 8, 2007

Peasant Foods Revisited: Colcannon

I have Scots-Irish somewhere way back in the nether regions of my family tree. And it must be said I do love a good potato.

Which love, it must further be said, requires restraint if one does not want to eventually RESEMBLE a good potato...heehee! (Er, ok, well let's not go there just now...) ;-)

I even want to have a small white or buff donkey someday, named Tater. (But we won't eat HIM...)

It seems that through the years, despite the pickiest of palates, the potato has been a frequent family table favorite, in nearly any form. I was not raised eating potatoes, since my mother was always on some version of a Weight Watchers or other diet, and therefore our starches were nearly nonexistent. This, likely, raised the potato to an even higher state of desirability in my sister's and my eyes...the only time potatoes turned up were at holidays or special occasions, most usually in the form of escalloped "Scalloped" potatoes...a "company" dish.

Fast forward to the present. I've now had many years of practice cooking the lovely potato in its other forms. And despite all pretences of fancy-ing it up, the favorites are usually the simplest...some type of variation on the theme of The Otherwise Hard To Goof Up Cooked Potato. Little new potatoes boiled and sprinkled with parsley, chives, green onions, you name your favorite, and a couple grinds of salt. Easy, and delicious served next to any green veggie. Boiled potatoes, sliced and served with nothing but salt and pepper. Delicious! Potatoes creamed or made into a soup or soup base. Pan fried potato strips, seasoned and crusty. Potato wedges baked with herbs. The topping for a shepherds pie. An accompaniment for savory meats, gravies, sauces. The star of an all-vegetable meal, nestled with fresh green beans, fresh sliced tomatoes, green onions, etc. The possibilities are endless, and besides being good eating, the potato

I make a mean mashed potato. I usually use the cheapest potatoes, which in this area seem to be white Idaho potatoes (yes, I know, not local...I'll get there someday...when raising my OWN :)). Or if we're getting really fancy, I'll spring for the lucious Yukon Golds...yum! I have it down pat my own quickie system for mashed potatoes....peel, rinse, slice once down the middle horizontally then back again vertically along the length of the potatoe into 1 or 2 inch cubes...boil in a relatively small amount of salted water till soft but not mushy, drain, and mash with a masher. Then add whichever combination of these suits the moment and the meal...whole milk or cream, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, fresh grated cheese, pan roasted garlic, chives or other herbs, fresh pepper. Usually we do the milk/cream cheese/butter/S&P sort, or the milk/butter/garlic/sour cream/grated cheese one.

Or we bake a potato and eat it sans fat with a grind of salt and pepper.

Or oven roasted, with a dash of olive oil, liberal amounts of garlic and onion, and some chunked root vegetables...yum!

In my searching for variations on the potato theme and our Peasant Foods endeavor, I ran across a recipe I've always wanted to try, from Across The Pond...Colcannon. There were a few variations on it, but essentially it is a simple and hearty dish of potatoes mashed with either cooked curly kale or cabbage... the addition of leeks, scallions, chives, parsley varying with the particular recipe. Essentially this is a dish of mashed potatoes and the cook's choice of kale or cabbage, despite the variations, so I made a basic recipe of my own mashed potatoes and added boiled and lightly pureed kale.

Most recipes call for stripping the kale leaves from their stems, but my kale was storebought in the organic section already chopped with the stems still on. I had no leeks or scallions, and substituted dried parsley and chives.

Roughly, the recipe is something like this:

Colcannon (adapted from a variety of recipes found doing Google searches)

1. Make a pot of boiled potato chunks, cooked, drained of cooking liquid, and mashed till a thick dense mash, not runny. Season well with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a bit of milk or cream (just a bit, not a large quantity) and add your choice of scallions, chives, parsley, leeks...heat till they are tender. Then stir this into the potatoes.

3. While boiling the potatoes (above), in a separate large pot put 2 or 3 inches of water and either de-stalked and shredded curly kale or shredded/thinly-sliced cabbage (minus the core). Lightly salt this in the pot so it will cook down quickly. Cover with a lid, and heat to boiling, and then immediately reduce the heat till it is still simmering briskly. It doesnt take that long to cook's done when the vegetable is tender but not lifeless. Drain off liquid. And explain to passersby that you don't have intestinal's just the smell of greens cooking ;-)

4. It's your choice whether or not to process the kale/cabbage into a puree or not, or whether to leave as is before mashing it into the mashed potatoes. I tried pulsing the drained kale with a stick blender, which didnt work that well without liquid but still got it a lot smaller. You could use a blender or food processor to the consistency you desire.

5. Add the kale/cabbage to the mashed potatoes, and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. If too chunky, add a bit of additional cream/milk, but NOT till runny. You want a thick, dense mash.

6. Serve steaming hot, alone or as a side dish, each serving scooped onto plate or bowl. Make a well in the center of each serving, with a spoon, and plop a chunk of butter there to melt. This was traditionally eaten by dipping bites of the potato mixture into the melted butter with each bite.

I tried this tonight, and mine was too runny due to my exuberance with too much milk. Even so, my husband really loved it, and I served it with portions of breaded cod oven cooked till crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside. The greens add vital nutrients and flavor, and green up the potato mash to a vibrant color that's a nice change from white. It would also be delicious served with grilled kosher sausage.

A close kin to Colcannon is another heritage tradition called Stamppot. A Google search will render countless fun links to great recipes of these and similar dishes.

Bon Appetit!

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e4 said...

I'm with you: Potatoes rule. French fried, pan fried, baked, boiled, mashed, steamed, kettle-fried, roasted, grilled... Is there any cooking method you can't use on them??

I don't know if this qualifies as colcannon, but I seem to remember trying this with some excess Swiss chard last year with good results.

Robbyn said...

I love chard...very mild. In fact I like it much better than collards and turnip greens. Sheesh, now I'm hungry...