Each year as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I cook the cliche.
I purchase a sizable slab of Murphy & David’s Corned Beef brisket from my local Publix and slow-braise it to a tender, aromatic finish, adding potatoes and cabbage during the final stretch of cooking. We gobble it up with hearty mustard and crusty bread. Like pumpkins in autumn and hot dogs on the Fourth of July, corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day just feels right — like a delicious obligation.
This year I vow to keep it delicious, but do my best to escape the cliche. While a mighty pot of corned beef and cabbage is always welcome on my stovetop, I have new inspiration this year in the form of a trio of Irish cookbooks. These new (or months-old) books explore the culinary textures of the Emerald Isle, its seafood, greens and dairy.
Dublin celebrity chef Kevin Dundon takes a fresh approach to the food of his homeland in his “Modern Irish Food” cookbook ($24.99, Mitchen Beazley), a companion book to his 10-part public television show. Dundon, who also is the signature chef at Orlando’s Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant, delivers a courgette (zucchini) and almond soup that’s as spring-y as it is luxurious, and he details a fish chowder that makes healthy use of Dublin Bay prawns and fresh fish fillets that’s a cinch to make.
For a cozy Irish breakfast, he offers a simple potato bread that combines leftover mashed potatoes with flour and a little butter and turns into a skillet-cooked base for a gloriously drippy fried egg.
For her part, Darina Allen — the local foods advocate who has been dubbed the Julia Child of Ireland — gives us “30 Years at Ballymaloe” ($35, Kyle Books), a lushly photographed tome that chronicles her decades as head of Ireland’s longest-running cooking school. As her school has opened its doors to distinguished visitors from around the world, the book reflects some global inspirations that are made local by Allen’s strong focus on what’s homegrown around her.
She shares her school’s recipe for chicken pie, a gorgeously sauced, tarragon-scented filling that’s baked beneath a rustic, golden crust of puff pastry. It’s labor-intensive, but worth the work — and you can always cut the prep time by using good store-bought puff pastry.
Finally, from the Irish Countrywomen’s Association we have quite a soulful book in “Irish Country Cooking” ($24.95, Sterling Epicure), a collection of homey, yet worldly, recipes from Irish mothers and grandmothers. In the recipe intros and contributor descriptions (such as “Brid Malone: mother of five, walker and swimmer,” and “Marie O’Toole: passionate gardener and aspiring writer”), one can almost smell the aromas of melting butter and baking pies and hear the chatter of families.
Contributor Mary Fitzgerald, described as a “gardener and Internet enthusiast,” offers her recipe for a simple spinach pie that’s made light and creamy by cottage cheese. The finished pie is stunningly green — picture perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. And if you’re not ready to leave the cliche just yet, you can always wash down that pie with a mug of green beer.
“One of the nicest breakfasts or mid-morning snacks is this bread, made into traditional triangular ‘farls,’ and served with some fried eggs,” writes Dundon in his “Modern Irish Food” cookbook. “Drizzle a little oil into the pan and crack in the eggs. Cook for 2 minutes, then turn and cook for 30 seconds. Serve on a slice of potato bread with a sprinkling of parsley.” He suggests using mashed potato that is still warm for this recipe. If you are using cold leftover mashed potato, warm it up before adding the other ingredients.
Makes 6 triangular slices
1 1/3 cups warm mashed potato
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
Place the mashed potato into a large bowl and season with the salt and black pepper.
Melt the butter and add this to the potato, then sift in the flour and mix well to make a pliable dough.
Lightly dust your work surface with a little flour, then turn the potato dough onto it and roll into a circle that is roughly 1/2 inch thick and 9 1/2 inches in diameter. Now divide it into 6 triangles (farls).
Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-based nonstick frying pan or griddle (ridged grill) over a moderate heat. (Traditionally, no fat or oil would be added to the pan to cook potato bread.)
Cook the farls for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Serve immediately.