Irish favorites will help you celebrate day in style

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Although he was born in Great Britain, St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Of the many miracles attributed to him probably the most famous is the driving of the snakes from Ireland. His sainthood came from his conversion of the Celtic pagans to Christianity.

St. Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in America in Boston, Mass. in 1737, and is now celebrated nationwide as an opportunity to wear green and consume green libations, while the celebration in Ireland is more of a religious holiday. The shamrock became associated with St. Patrick and St. Patrick’s day during his years of preaching when he would use it as a symbol of the holy trinity. The wearing o’ the green is a symbol of the green countryside associated with Ireland.

The foods of Ireland have often been described as &uot;bland,&uot; primarilybecause their staples are potatoes and cabbage. Potatoes came to Ireland by way of South America, and by 1688, they had become a staple of the Irish diet. The Irish call potatoes &uot;praties&uot; and according to food experts, a diet of potatoes and milk will supply all the nutrients the human body needs. The potato has long been considered a staple for the poor, and throughout their often difficult history, impoverished Irish people have relied heavily on it for subsistence. Potatoes contain plentiful carbohydrates and some protein, calcium and niacin. They are easy to grow and store. In 1845, a fungal disease hit the Irish potato crop, causing a famine which killed millions of people and forced more than a million to emigrate primarily to the United States to escape starvation.

Oats were also a staple in the Irish diet, to feed not only the family, but to also support the livestock that worked the fields. Oatmeal porridges and breads continue to be favorites.

Leeks have been around in Ireland even longer than the potato. Growing wild throughout the countryside leeks give this potato soup a wonderful flavor. The blend of these two Irish vegetables will help you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a delicious way.

Potato-Leek Soup

3 medium leeks

1 medium yellow onion

4 medium potatoes

2 tablespoons butter

4 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup milk, cream or a mixture of the two

Dice the white part of the leeks and clean them thoroughly. Peel and dice the onion. Peel and coarsely chop the potatoes.

In a heavy pan, melt the margarine and saut\u00E9 the leeks, onions and potatoes until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add the stock. Bring it to a boil then reduce to simmering until the vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes).

Puree the vegetables using a food processor, blender, food mill or ricer and return them to the stock.

Add enough milk to bring the soup to a rich, coarse consistency.

Serves 4 to 6

This next recipe is the traditional way that mashed potatoes are served in Ireland. Green onions or leeks may be used.

Champ

4 pound of white potatoes

1/2 pound of spring onions (scallions)

1/2 pint of milk

2 teaspoons salt

4 ounces of butter

Peel and boil potatoes until cooked. Simmer the spring onions in milk for about 5 minutes. Strain potatoes and mash. Add the hot milk and scallions, salt, pepper and half the butter and mix in.

Ireland is also well-known for their cheeses. Blarney cheese is a popular cheese there but a little hard to locate here, so you can substitute Swiss.

Blarney Cheese and Onion Tart

Crust ingredients

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick butter, cut into small chunks and chilled

1/4 cup sour cream

1 egg yolk

Filling ingredients

1 1/2 pounds onions, thinly sliced

1/2 stick butter

1 cup half and half

3 egg yolks

1 egg

Dash of ground nutmeg

1 cup of grated Swiss cheese

Begin by making the crust. As with all pie crusts you want to handle it as little as possible to prevent it from being tough. Blend the flour and salt in a food processor and then add the butter and blend briefly until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal mixture. You can do this in a large bowl with a pastry blender or with your fingers. Mix the sour cream and egg yolk together. Add to flour mixture and blend just until dough begins to form clumps. If you are doing by hand, use a spatula and mix as little as possible. Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13-inch round. Transfer dough to an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom or a 10-inch springform pan. Trim edges. Pierce the dough with a fork in several places to prevent bubbles. Line the dough with foil. Bake 15 minutes. Then remove the foil and continue to bake until it is a pale golden brown. Remove oven and let cool.

While the crust is cooling prepare the filling. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute until very soft and golden, stirring often. This will take about 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, set aside and let cool.

Lower your oven temperature to 325 degrees. Whisk the half and half, yolks and egg together. Add the nutmeg. Spread the onion in the crust and sprinkle with the cheese. Ladle half and half mixture over the onions and cheese.

Bake tart until the filling puffs and is golden brown, about 45 to 55 minutes. Cool slightly. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature as an appetizer or first course.

There are as many recipes for Irish stew around as there are stories about leprechauns. If you prefer not to use lamb you can substitute beef.

Irish Stew

3 pounds boneless lamb

1 1/2 minced fresh parsley

1 teaspoon dried thyme

6 cups chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

3 pound potatoes, peeled and

cubed

6 stalks celery, trimmed and

cubed

6 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup vegetable oil

In a large pot add 4 cups of the broth, the lamb, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Then add the potatoes, onion, carrots, celery and the remaining 2 cups of broth, continue to simmer, covered for an hour.

In a small bowl whisk together the flour and oil until smooth and stir into the simmering stew until well blended.

Simmer the stew uncovered until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Check the seasonings and serve hot with a salad and bread.

Adapted from Gourmet

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And last but not least my favorite way celebrate my own Irish heritage, a cup of hot Irish Coffee. The key here is to use a good Irish whiskey, such as Jameson’s.

Irish Coffee

1 jigger Irish whiskey

1 or 2 teaspoon sugar,

Freshly made hot coffee

2 to 4 tablespoons chilled

whipped cream

Heat, but do not boil, the whiskey. A microwave works well for this. (20 to 30 seconds on high power should do the trick) Pour the warmed whiskey into a warmed 7-ounce coffee cup, goblet or Irish coffee glass and add the sugar.

Fill with the hot coffee to within about a half inch of the top of the cup. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Float the whipped cream on top of the hot coffee and serve.