Friday, March 16, 2012

Colcannon

Last week I posted a round-up featuring the Irish recipes I've shared here over the years. While most of them have been my adaptations of the classics, versus passed down family recipes - many of them would have been welcome additions to our St. Patrick's Day dinners growing up. This recipe, however, would not have been received so gladly.
You see, I come from a family of mashed potato purists - and I can guarantee you that adding anything to plain ole' mashed potatoes, other than the basic additions {butter, milk and salt} - would not be welcomed {I think someone even tried that once and it didn't go over well}.
But now - I'm all grown up...I have a family of my own. And if I want to add greens to my mashed potatoes, I certainly can. In fact, the idea of making a batch of Colcannon has been speaking out to me for a long while. When I saw this version in a cookbook my father gave me, called The Country Cooking of Ireland, by Coleman Andrews, I knew I would try a batch this year.
I happen to love greens. Kale, chard, spinach, rapini, or collards...you name it, I like them all. So, this recipe is my kind of side dish. Yes, there's loads of butter in there. Yes, there's also whole milk and it's basically a 'carb-laden' mound of comfort in a bowl. But St. Patrick's Day comes but once a year - and yes, I do feel a bit better about it when the recipe involves a big pile of greens too.

Like any other traditional dish of Ireland, there are as many variations on this recipe as there are Irish Mamos. I've seen recipes that are little more than potatoes, milk, butter and kale. Some add in chopped cabbage, some add other greens - such as spinach or green herbs, like sorrel or parsley. However, my research has lead me to one conclusion - it's really just a way to use up whatever greens you happen to have on hand, or that happen to be in season. If cabbage is abundant, you would use that - same goes for kale, or any other green. Best of all, you can add in more than one type of leafy green - so it's a good way to use up the drips and drabs you might have leftover in the fridge.
I followed the recipe author's instructions for the most part. But I did decide to throw in some fresh parsley leaves...for obvious reasons. I also decided to use baby kale.
For those of you who have not tried baby kale yet - I really love it. Earthbound Farms sells containers of mixed baby kales in a clam shell container - just like their lettuce greens. So it's all washed and ready to use {super convenient}. The young leaves are very tender and much less bitter than mature kale. So it's a good option for those who may not be the biggest 'bitter greens' fan.
In this recipe, the russet potatoes are steamed with their skins on...which is a new technique for me. Usually, when I make mashed potatoes, I peel them ahead of time. Then, I chop the potatoes up into uniform sizes and boil them until tender. But by doing so, I'm boiling away and draining off all the potato flavor. This technique is a tad more involved than simply boiling potatoes, but I encourage you to try it. While potatoes are very bland in general, this technique will help extract as much flavor as possible from them.
Another great flavor maker in this recipe is scallions. The scallion greens are minced and steamed with milk and butter. This gives the milk a vichyssoise-like flavor...for those of you who have had vichyssoise {basically potato leek soup} you'll know what I'm talking about. It's seems scallions {or chives and leeks, for that matter} were destined to marry potatoes...because they're simply meant to be together.
You can read more about the traditional way to serve this dish in the recipe below - but I'll give you a hint: it has something to do with the pool of melted butter in the center.
I recommend serving Colcannon along side the other traditional Irish-American St. Patrick's Day staples of Corned Beef & Cabbage and Soda Bread. If you happen to have any leftovers, try making Colcannon Cakes - you can use this recipe for Boxty {Irish Potato Pancakes} and substitute the Colcannon for the plain mashed potatoes. If you're Irish, or if you just enjoy celebrating St. Patricks' Day and the food of Ireland, I highly recommend you purchase The Country Cooking of Ireland cookbook. It's as much an encyclopedia as it is a cookbook and it's so gorgeous, it will end up on your coffee table instead of a bookshelf. Enjoy!

Colcannon

Adapted from The Country Cooking of Ireland by Coleman Andrews
Serves 4-6

As with many traditional Irish recipes, there are many variations on this comfort food staple. It varies greatly by what region of Ireland it's made in, the time of year it's made, or what kind of greens the cook might have available. It seems the most basic, and authentic way to make Colcannon is to simply combine mashed potatoes, butter, milk and kale. But there's also another common Irish potato dish, called Champ - which is made by steaming sliced scallion greens in milk and butter, then adding it to mashed potatoes. You could say this recipe is a combination of both dishes, which is what I really like about it. I took my own creative liberties here in my method and added in some parsley leaves {of course!}. I also decided to use baby kale, which comes in a clam shell container, all rinsed and ready to use, by Earthbound Farms...love the stuff! Baby kale is very tender and doesn't have the sharp, bitter bite that mature kale might have. If you're unable to obtain baby kale, simply substitute any variety of chopped kale leaves.

2 pounds russet potatoes {about 5-6}
6 tablespoons butter {divided}, plus more for serving
5 ounces baby kale, coarsely chopped
6 scallions {green parts only}, minced
1 1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Scrub the potatoes clean and place them in a large pot. Fill the pot with water until it reaches about halfway up the potatoes. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain half of the water from the pot, cover and return to the stove. Reduce the heat to medium-low, or whatever temperature will maintain a low simmer. Keep covered and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove the lid, turn off the heat and cover the pot with a dish towel. Let the potatoes sit for another 5 minutes. Drain and peel the potatoes {it helps to use dish gloves for this task, as the potatoes will be hot}.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the kale {in batches, if necessary} and saute until wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
3. Heat the milk, scallions and remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan, until the butter is melted and the milk is beginning to bubble around the edges, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sauteed kale, fresh parsley leaves, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the saucepan and set aside until the potatoes are ready to mash.
4. Once the potatoes are peeled, return them to their original pot and pour in the milk/kale mixture. Mash everything together using a potato masher, leaving a few small chunks of potatoes throughout. To serve in a traditional manner, mound the potatoes into serving bowls. Use the back of a spoon to make a depression into the center of each and fill with a pad of softened butter. Once the butter melts, each bite should be dipped into the well of butter before eating.

Some Notes & Variations:
* The day I made this dish, I couldn't find my potato masher anywhere. So, I ended up using my stand mixer, with the paddle attachment and beat the mixture until I achieved the desired consistency. It worked very well, but this method does create another bowl to wash! - I'll leave it up to you.
* While you could peel your potatoes ahead of time, using this method of steaming to cook the potatoes leaves you with the most intense potato flavor - the skins help this process as well. Once they're completed steamed, the skins literally fall off the potatoes, so it's not really the arduous task it may seem. Another option would be to use thin-skinned potatoes, such as Yukon gold or red potatoes. You could leave the skins on and mash them right into the final dish.
 

* In addition to, or instead of kale - chard, spinach, sorrel, parsley or cabbage can be used. Coleman Andrews even recommends using the chopped outer leaves of broccoli or cauliflower.  
* To make Champ: Omit the kale and parsley {or any other leafy greens} altogether. Double the amount of scallion greens used in the milk. Follow the rest of the recipe exactly.
Click here for the printable recipe.

6 comments:

Julia @The Roasted Root said...

Kale is so nutritious and as you demonstrated can be included in a variety of dishes. I have never thought to put kale in mashed potatoes - I'm going to share this secret with my sister and sister-in-law so that they can sneek greens into their kids's meals! Very smart thinking. I also like that this is a festive St. Paddy's dish. Hope you have a great weekend!

kate said...

Thanks Julia...
I actually meant to say in the post that the kale {greens} mixture can be finely chopped before adding it to the milk. This would help increase the likelihood of kids enjoying the dish.
I know for me, my kids wouldn't eat this with big chunks of kale in there...but they might if it was finely chopped, or pureed. Once they taste all the buttery, salty goodness I think they'd be swayed :)

Quiqui said...

I never cook kale. I'll start now with this recipe. When I make mashed potato for my son I always add spinach or broccoli. My husband doesn't like too much. I just think it is a good way to make my son eat his vegetables. I'll try this recipe. Right now, I'm cooking corned beef and cabbage(your recipe). Thanks for sharing this delicious recipes!!!
www.notasinfashion.blogspot.com

Joanne said...

My family is much more of a potato purist than I am, though I have stuffed spinach mashed taters down their throats before. Literally.

I LOVE this green-full version! I'm all about the leafy greens, all the time.

Lily said...

your pictures are so nice! and this looks even better, i'm gonna make this soon!

Heather said...

Made this as a side dish for our St. Patrick's Day dinner tonight, and even my husband who typically avoids veggies tried some. I loved it!

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