My grandfather, the child of Irish immigrants, wasn’t a big fan of Saint Patrick’s Day. I’m not sure if that came from a desire to assimilate, common as that is among first generation Americans, or a disdain for the green-beer-and-leprechauns silliness that can trivialize the Irish legacy, or what it was. As a result, though, we didn’t make much of a fuss of it at my house, either. We might have had corned beef for dinner and called it a day.
Me? I am into it. I have Kelly green underpants. I bake loaves upon loaves of brown bread. I have three stock Gaelic phrases that I use to exhaustion and a three-hour iTunes playlist called “Kiss My Shillelagh”. And every year, I make colcannon.
I visited the old sod two years ago, and I remember feeling thunder-struck by nostalgia, a bit odd considering I’d never been to Ireland before. (Unless you count the Irish Embassy in DC. At 18, I attended a party with my parents and toasted my first legal-on-a-technicality alcoholic beverage. It was a Guinness, and I didn’t like it. Ah, youth.) I suppose it was a feeling of continuity, of coming back to something familiar, in the literal sense. That and about every other person on the street looked like somebody to whom I’m related. Irish genes are strong.
Cooking, of course, creates another visceral (and better yet, edible) tether between the past and present. A traditional plate of braised lamb, and a batch of garlicky, creamy, kale-studded colcannon seems an apt way to celebrate my (mostly) Irish heritage. Add a snifter of Powers whiskey, put on the Pogues and we’ve got ourselves some real craic. Two snifters and I’m planning to stage reenactments of the 1916 Easter Rising in the living room and charge the audience a 5-lb bag of potatoes each. Just think of all the colcannon we could make.
serves four to six
- 2 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes
- 8 oz lacinto or curly kale, center ribs removed and chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 C half-and-half
- 3 Tbsp butter
- pinch of nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 C chicken or vegetable stock
Peel and quarter the potatoes and place in a large pot with enough generously salted water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until a paring knife can pierce the flesh with no resistance (but not so mushy they’re falling apart), about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the butter, half-and-half, nutmeg and garlic; simmer about 4 minutes (take care not to scorch it). Drain and mash the potatoes (or use a ricer or hand-held mixer, if desired) and add the warm dairy mixture and salt. Rinse out and wipe down the medium saucepan. Heat the stock to a simmer; add the kale and heat to wilt, stirring, about five minutes. Fold the kale into the potato mixture, adjust the salt to your liking and serve.
Note: to keep the colcannon warm or to reheat, place in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan with simmering water, stirring occasionally. You may want to add a bit more stock or half-and-half just before serving.