St. Patrick’s Day is passing more quietly than usual this year. No parades, some bars are closed. Some folks no doubt made, or are making, corned beef and serving it with cabbage and Irish soda bread.
The produce sections of grocery stores at this time of year are full of inexpensive, lovely light green cabbage these days, with heavy, tight heads. As much as I like crunchy slaw, I relish silky tender, well-cooked cabbage, as long as it hasn’t been boiled to death and made all pale and watery.
One of the two ways to cook cabbage that some of you might like to try is a simply braised version, not a recipe exactly but just a set of instructions. Wedges of cabbage steamed lightly until just wilted are transferred to a fry pan coated with olive oil and butter, braised over medium heat and turned once until the cabbage becomes a light golden color. This gives the cabbage a lovely nutty sweet flavor, makes it fork tender and proves to be a terrific side dish for a pork chop or slice of corned beef, or any other time you like to have cooked cabbage.
The other cooked cabbage idea is colcannon, a classic Irish dish, though variations appear all over the British Isles. Sauteed, coarsely chopped cabbage cooked up in bacon fat, with onions or leeks added and then mashed together with boiled potatoes, turns out hearty and flavorful, possibly sufficient as a main dish depending on your family’s appetites. A slab of bacon, of a good smokey sort, is truly wonderful in colcannon, and I fried up only four slices, one per serving, and then I served the dish with a little fried sausage on the side and pickles.
Colcannon can absorb a generous amount of kale if that is what you have instead of cabbage; you can make a vegetarian version using only vegetable or olive oil. You can gild the lily with cheese on top. You can emphasize the cabbage or the potatoes depending on what you have most of or might find delicious. This is a very elastic dish.
— 4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
— 4 slices of smokey slab bacon
— 1 medium onion
— ¼ or more of a medium head of cabbage, coarsely chopped
— ¼ cup milk
— 2-3 tablespoons butter
— Salt and pepper to taste
— Grated cheddar, optional
Put your potatoes on high heat and when they boil, turn down to a simmer.
Fry the bacon slices in a skillet until they are crisp, then drain.
Meanwhile, slice the onion, and add it to the bacon fat and cook until it is tender.
Add the chopped cabbage, mix, and then reduce the temperature and cover.
Drain the potatoes when they are tender, and mash them with milk and butter, then add them into the cooked cabbage and mix well together. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Chop the bacon into small pieces and add it to the potato and cabbage mixture.
Heat all together, top with cheese, if desired, and put under a broiler.