Corned beef and cabbage is about as sure of a bet at St. Patrick's Day celebrations as pints of Guinness and toe-tapping, jig-inspiring Irish folk music.
So is boxty. And cheddar cheese scones. And a mashed potato-and-cabbage dish known as colcannon. Plus my personal favorite, Irish stew, which has been Ireland's much-loved national dish for more than 200 years.
Those foods are favorites for a reason: not only have generations of Irish have been eating them, but also they're relatively easy to prepare, even when you're cooking for a crowd. But they're also kind of boring, if you ask me.
This year, I made a vow to add a few dishes to my repertoire that have their roots in Ireland, where both sides of my husband's family come from, and that also push the gastronomic boundaries a bit. What I settled on, after a great deal of searching through Irish cookbooks and food websites, were two Irish "risotto" recipes -- one that substitutes McCann's Irish Oatmeal for the traditional arborio rice, and another that's made with potatoes and mushrooms. Another dish I just had to try after spotting a picture of it on a charming blog by a Galway-based foodwriter (my son spent a semester there during college and after visiting, I've wanted to live there ever since). That's an updated version of the Irish "jumbo" breakfast roll.
For you traditionalists out there, I've also included an easy smoked salmon pate. It'll chase away the munchies when you come home in the wee hours after the day's festivities, and it also makes a tasty breakfast the next morning.
McCann's Irish Oatmeal Risotto
"I'm not eating oatmeal for dinner," my husband declared when I placed a bowl of this "risotto" in front of him. I can see not wanting it as a main dish, but it did make a lovely side dish and easy-to-heat-up lunch the next day.
Even when fully cooked steel-cut oats tend to be chewy, so don't be surprised that it isn't as creamy as traditional risotto. The oats give it a nice nutty flavor. I used vegetable broth and added a little more parmesan than the original recipe called for.
3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups steel-cut Irish oatmeal
5 to 6 cups unsalted chicken or beef broth
Pinch saffron for color (optional)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add shallots and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes. Stir in oats and saute for about 5 minutes or until oats are glistening.
Begin by adding the hot broth 1/2 cup at a time (and saffron, if using), stirring continuously, until each 1/2 cup has been absorbed. When oats have absorbed enough broth to be a rich, creamy texture with a bit of chewiness left, they're done.
Stir in parsley, lemon juice, cheese, salt and pepper.
Serve hot. Serves 8.
Irish Risotto with Potatoes, Mushrooms & Guinness
Be sure to choose a starchy variety of potato, such as russet or Idaho.
1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons butter
8 ounces crimini or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 large potatoes (about 14 ounces), peeled
14 ounces vegetable stock
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 ounces Guinness or other stout
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Place pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon butter. When butter has melted, add sliced mushrooms. Fry until well browned and mushroom have reabsorbed any liquid, around 12 to 15 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside.
While mushrooms are frying, scrub and peel potatoes. Cut into slices around 1/4-inch thick. Stack the slices and cut into sticks. Place stock in a small saucepan and keep at a simmer over low heat.
Using the same pan as for the mushrooms, return pan to medium heat, add 2 teaspoons butter and 2 teaspoons olive oil. When hot, add onion, thyme, sage and a pinch of salt. Stir and fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add garlic and stir fry for another minute.
Add potato pieces, stir briefly, then add Guinness. Stir until liquid has mostly been absorbed. Add a ladle of stock to potatoes and continue stirring until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding ladles of stock, stirring, until all potatoes pieces are just tender, around 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the fried mushrooms and cook for another minute.
Remove from heat. Stir in half of the grated cheese, half the chopped parsley and lemon zest. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste and additional salt, if you think you need it.
Serve sprinkled with remaining grated cheese and chopped parsley. Serves 2.
-- Adapted from thedailyspud.com
Baked Brunch Baguette
This eat-as-you-go sandwich is a twist on Ireland's "Jumbo breakfast roll." The traditional gut-busting version starts with a white roll, then fills it with all the makings of a full Irish breakfast: sausages and rashers (Irish bacon), black (blood) and white (oatmeal) pudding, and sometimes egg, mushrooms and hashbrowns. This recipe is much simpler, and we're guessing easier to digest.
Perfect for the morning after your St. Patty's Day celebration.
2 demi baguettes
2 whole eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 ounce cream or creme fraiche
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Salt and pepper
1 ounce hard cheese, grated
2 thin slices prosciutto
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut out a long oval section from the tops of the baguettes and scoop out the soft bread inside, being careful not to pierce the crust.
Crack eggs into a bowl and beat together with cream, onion and seasoning. Mix in most of the grated cheese.
Pour half the mixture into each baguette and place each onto a slice of prosciutto on a baking sheet. Fold the prosciutto up over the middle of the bread and scatter the rest of the cheese on top.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. The egg mixture should be puffed up but still runny in the middle, and the prosciutto should be crispy.
Makes 2 sandwiches.
-- Adapted from warmsnugfat.blogspot.ie
Smoked Salmon Pate
Slather this easy spread on brown soda bread, toast or crackers, or serve with crudites of celery, carrot and cucumber arranged to replicate the Irish flag.
9 ounces smoked salmon
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup cream fraiche
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon capers
Freshly ground black pepper
Put all ingredients except pepper into a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with pepper to taste.
Transfer to bowl and chill.
-- "Clodagh's Kitchen Diaries" by Clodagh McKenna (Kyle, March 10, 2013, $27.95)
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.