St. Patrick’s Day, largely a cultural “holiday,” is often celebrated with parades and by sporting shamrocks and drinking beer. These are enduring traditions here in New England, especially in Boston, where to this day more than 20 percent of the population is of Irish ancestry (the highest percentage of any major city in the United States).
However, at its core, St. Patrick’s Day is a symbolic celebration of our shared legacy as descendants of immigrants, those who hailed from distant shores, often risking life and limb during precarious and harrowing journeys across open seas, with little more than a hope and a prayer for a better life.
I would like to take this opportunity to honor my husband’s beloved grandmother, Bridget (Beatrice) Gallagher Lehane, who immigrated to the U.S. at the tender age of 16, bravely unaccompanied by family. She left behind Belleek, Northern Ireland, where as a young Catholic woman, she undoubtedly faced hardship and limited prospects. Shortly after arriving in Boston, Bridget felt compelled to legally change her name to a more Anglicized Beatrice, due to the widespread discrimination and bigotry endured by Irish immigrants.
Beatrice married, raised her family and carved out an enduring career as a full-time cook for the executives of the First National Bank of Boston, until her retirement decades later. Beatrice prepared formal three-course daily luncheons for the bank’s executive staff (a tradition that has long since been discontinued here in the U.S. but that I have experienced firsthand on trips to Italy, France, Germany and Ireland).
Beatrice was a talented cook, but, more importantly, she cooked with love and generosity. Throughout my husband’s childhood, his grandmother’s weekly Sunday dinners brought family members together and were the single most enduring tradition of his and his siblings’ lives. Through trials and tribulation, hardship and loss, Beatrice’s dinner table was a place of comfort and respite, where all were welcomed and well-cared-for.
In honor of Beatrice, and of my own Irish heritage, I researched and experimented with each of these traditional Irish recipes. Never having prepared a single one of these dishes before, I will now continue to do so going forward, in her memory.
Although I only had the chance to meet Beatrice a handful of times, I was instantly and profoundly moved by the gentle warmth and kindness she radiated. Within moments of our first meeting, she began urging us, again and again, to bring her home from the nursing home so that she could make us Sunday dinner. My heart filled with tenderness.
I have often daydreamed, had Brian and I settled down and married earlier in life, what a pleasure and privilege it would have been for Beatrice to live out her final years under our roof, where we may have offered her just a bit of the comfort and nurturing she gave so freely and selflessly throughout her lifetime.
IRISH SODA BREAD
Irish soda bread could not be simpler to prepare. Because yeast is not used, there is no kneading, rising and waiting. In less than an hour, you will be cutting thick slices of fresh, rustic bread, with a perfectly golden crust. It’s the perfect accompaniment to my Irish seafood chowder or cottage pie. This recipe is a basic one; feel free to turn it into a sweet-savory treat by stirring in 1 cup dried currants or golden raisins, 1 tablespoon orange zest, and 1 tablespoon caraway seeds with the liquid ingredients.
13/4 cups whole-wheat flour
13/4 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
12/3 cups buttermilk
1 large locally raised egg
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon rolled oats
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Sift together the flours, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter. Combine using a fork or pastry blender until the butter is the size of small peas.
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and honey until well-combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour liquid ingredients into the well, reserving a small amount of the liquid. Mix with a wooden spoon until dough just comes together and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Dust your work surface lightly with flour. Gently fold the dough into the center a few times (using your hands), and shape into a rustic, round loaf. Cut a small cross into the top of the bread (a traditional “blessing”). Brush top with the reserved buttermilk-egg-honey mixture.
Sprinkle with the rolled oats.
Bake for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 400 degrees, and continue cooking for 30 minutes longer. Do not open the oven while baking.
Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes, and cut into thick slices to serve.
IRISH SEAFOOD CHOWDER
This smoky, creamy chowder is a departure from traditional New England clam or fish chowder. The broth is thinner and lighter, allowing the combination of fresh and smoked haddock and mussels to take center stage. I purchased local haddock from Fish in Newburyport, along with the smoked Scottish haddock, and bought fish stock, prepared in-house, from David’s Fish Market in Salisbury. I recommend not adding salt, as the stock and seafood should provide all the salty goodness you need.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 slices local smoked bacon, chopped into small cubes
1 large onion, finely diced
1 quart fish stock
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or cornstarch)
6-8 ounces fresh local haddock, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
6 ounces smoked haddock, cut into 1-inch chunks
16-24 mussels, rinsed and scrubbed
11/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pinch cayenne (optional)
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (chives may be substituted)
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large stockpot over medium flame. Add the bacon, and cook until almost crisp, 4-6 minutes. Add the onion, and cook until soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes.
Pour in the fish stock, and add the potatoes, thyme and bay leaf. Simmer until potatoes are just tender, 10 minutes.
Blend the remaining butter and the flour to form a paste. Stir into the stock with a wooden spoon, until no lumps remain.
Remove the thyme and bay leaf, and add the fresh haddock, smoked haddock, mussels, milk and cream. Cover, and cook for 3-4 minutes until the mussels have opened and fish is cooked through. Discard any mussels that did not open.
Season with black pepper. Remove from heat, stir gently, and top with cayenne and parsley.
Serve with thick slices of Irish soda bread and unsalted butter.
This dish dates back to the 17th century in Ireland, during a time of widespread rural poverty. Born out of necessity, colcannon was created by combining widely available, inexpensive and easily grown crops. Now, it has been a staple in Irish households for centuries, and I can see why. Passed down through generations and across oceans, it offers comfort, sustenance and a taste of history. Although it’s traditionally prepared with peeled potatoes, I leave the skins on for added flavor, texture, nutrients and fiber.
11/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, skins on, quartered
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 large leek, thoroughly rinsed and thinly sliced (2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 head savoy or green cabbage, cored and shredded
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3-4 slices local smoked bacon
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
Fill a large pot with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the potatoes.
Reduce heat to medium-high, and cook until potatoes are fork-tender, approximately 20 minutes. Drain potatoes, and allow to cool for 1 minute. If using for cottage pie or if preferred, gently peel off skins.
While the potatoes are simmering, prepare the other ingredients. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cabbage, cooking until cabbage just begins to soften, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp, approximately 4 minutes per side. Drain on a paper bag, crumble and set aside.
Heat the milk, cream and 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium-low. Add the potatoes to the leeks and cabbage, and pour the warmed milk mixture over it. Roughly mash with a potato masher, and season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper.
Top with remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, crumbled bacon and sliced scallions.
Simple cottage pie is another time-tested traditional Irish dish that will warm you from the inside as you eat it. Ground beef, aromatics, root vegetables and a flavorful pan gravy are topped with mashed potatoes and then baked to perfection. Prepared for centuries by home cooks throughout Ireland, it is often mistakenly referred to as shepherd’s pie, which is prepared with ground lamb or mutton. My take on this classic features locally raised, extra-lean ground beef, loaded with earthy vegetables and topped with colcannon rather than traditional mashed potatoes. I think my husband’s beloved Irish grandmother would have approved.
For the filling:
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature, plus extra for greasing baking dish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 extra-large onion, roughly chopped
2 pounds very lean, grass-fed local ground beef
4 large carrots, peeled, large dice
2 celery stalks, large dice
1 large parsnip (or turnip), large dice
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
21/2 cups low-sodium beef, chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken stock for less of a beef flavor)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
11/2 cups frozen peas
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped (optional)
For the topping:
1 batch colcannon (follow recipe above, but peel the potatoes and omit the bacon and scallions)
1 cup shredded sharp Irish cheddar (optional)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish; set aside. Mash the flour and 1 tablespoon butter together to form a paste; set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté until soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the ground beef, breaking up with a wooden spoon and cooking until the beef is no longer pink.
Add the carrots, celery, parsnip and thyme. Stir mixture, then cover until vegetables begin to soften, approximately 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour in the stock, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Stir, and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes longer. Remove thyme. Stir in the butter-flour mixture, until well-incorporated. Stir in the peas.
Transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish, and top with entire batch of colcannon in a thick, even layer. To take the dish over the top, spread the cheddar over the colcannon.
Bake for 20 minutes. Adjust your oven to low broil, and cook for an additional 5 minutes until golden brown.
Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, and sprinkle with the parsley and chives before serving.
GUINNESS CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH BAILEYS CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
This cake is dense, rich, moist and definitely not overly sweet. The bitter chocolate flavor is intensified by the smoky undertones from the beer. Roasted and malted barley lend deep flavor and color to Guinness stout, making it an ideal ingredient to cook with, in both sweet and savory dishes. This impressive-looking cake is deceptively easy to prepare, right down to the Irish cream frosting and chocolate curls. And it actually resembles a pint of Guinness, making it a fun dessert for St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
For the cake:
11/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
3/4 cup extra-dark unsweetened cocoa powder, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting pan
1 cup Guinness stout
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup granulated cane sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup sour cream
2 large local eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the frosting:
10 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup Baileys Irish Cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
11/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the chocolate curls:
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan, and dust with 1 tablespoon cocoa powder. Set aside.
Heat the Guinness, 11/2 sticks butter and semisweet chocolate in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until the butter and chocolate are fully melted.
Turn off heat. Stir in the cocoa powder and both sugars, and whisk until fully blended and no longer grainy. Set aside, and allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Pour the sour cream mixture into the dry ingredients, and gently combine. Pour in the chocolate mixture, and stir until fully incorporated (do not over-mix, or your cake may become tough).
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes; it will rise quite a bit.
Remove from oven, and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Cut away the uneven surface with a serrated knife, and flip the cake over onto a cutting board or serving platter. Allow to cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, prepare the frosting. Place the cream cheese, Baileys, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large stand mixer, whisking on high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, scraping the sides as needed. Add a pinch of salt, and beat for 1 minute longer. Transfer frosting to the refrigerator, and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.
For the chocolate curls, melt the semisweet chocolate and butter in a double boiler over gently simmering water. Use a metal spatula to spread the melted chocolate in a thin layer over an 11-inch-by-15-inch baking tray.
Play tray in the freezer for 2-3 minutes. Press down with the metal spatula, and scrape with a sweeping motion to form curls and shards. You may need to refreeze briefly as you go; the chocolate will not curl if it becomes too soft.
Frost the cake; the frosting will be slightly runny and pour over the sides, giving it the appearance of a glass of frothy Guinness stout. Top with chocolate curls. Serve at once, or refrigerate.
Allison Lehane lives in Newbury, where she is a home cook who is passionate about locally sourced ingredients. Her recipes have been inspired by her world travels through her former career as an international home fashion buyer for TJX Corp. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.