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Irish dishes bring authentic flavor to St. Patrick’s Day

Oops! It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and you forgot to snag a corned beef when you went to the market. No problem. It’s not too late to prepare an almost-authentic Irish meal to celebrate the death of St. Patrick, who shuffled off this mortal coil on March 17, 461.

St. Patrick is believed to have brought Christianity to Ireland, which is why he is celebrated. He was not Irish but was kidnapped and enslaved by pirates in Ireland for 6 years. After escaping, he became a Christian missionary and eventually returned to Ireland. And that is why we drink green beer on March 17.

One of the benefits of St. Patrick’s Day is that every local market has corned beef and will for awhile because it never sells out in advance. Last year’s Seasonal Pantry explored corned beef, cabbage and corned turkey thighs, easy to make at home. This year, the focus is on other Irish dishes.

I’ll leave you with an Irish blessing: May you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

Traditional Irish stews tend to be much simpler than what we see these days. Originally, this lamb stew would have had only lamb, onions and thyme. Potatoes were added quite some time ago, but today you might find carrots, turnips, leeks, bacon and other ingredients, all which taste great but are not traditional. This version keeps the spirit of the tradition. I like to serve braised leeks alongside.

Irish Stew

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 large yellow onions, trimmed

6 small-medium thyme sprigs

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 1½-inch chunks

30 very small potatoes, washed and halved (see note below)

1 cup Guinness

Set a clay cooker or other deep, ovenproof pot next to your work surface.

Cut the onion into ¼-inch rounds.

Set three thyme sprigs on the bottom of the pot and arrange half the onions on top. Season with salt and pepper.

With the meat on a clean work surface, season it with salt and pepper and use your hands to turn it so it is evenly seasoned. Spread the lamb over the onions and top with half the potatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Set the remaining thyme sprigs on top of the potatoes, spread the remaining onions over them, add the rest of the potatoes and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the Guinness and 1 cup of water over everything. Add the lid or crimp a sheet of aluminum foil to the pot to make a tight fit. Set in a cold oven, turn the heat to 300 degrees and cook for 3 hours. Remove from the oven and let rest 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Note: Use the smallest potatoes you can find; they are often called “creamers.” If you use marble potatoes, the smallest ones available, you’ll need more than 30 — more like 40 or 50 — and they should not be cut in half.

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In this recipe, from the former Roscoff Restaurant in Belfast, traditional colcannon — a coarse mixture of potatoes, bacon, cabbage, onions and cream — is made into a savory torte, with the genius addition of cheddar cheese. It is rich and hearty enough to be a main course, with a big green salad or braised leeks alongside.

Colcannon Torte with Cheddar Cheese

Makes 6 to 8 Servings

Kosher salt

4 tablespoon butter

1 small yellow onion, diced

½ medium white cabbage, cored and shredded

6 bacon strips, diced

4 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices

Black pepper in a mill

8 ounces cheddar cheese, preferably Irish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Fill a large saucepan half full with water, add a tablespoon of kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shredded cabbage and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly in cool water. Set on clean tea towels to dry.

Butter a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan with a little of the butter and put what remains in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until it is just crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to absorbent paper.

Add the onion to the pan drippings and sauté until limp and fragrant, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Toss the cooked bacon and the blanched cabbage together.

Toss the sliced potatoes with the onions and bacon drippings.

Spread a third of the potato-onion mixture over the bottom of the buttered pan and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a third of the cheese over the potatoes, top with half the cabbage and bacon and season with salt and pepper. Add another third of the potatoes, season, add the remaining cheese and top with the remaining cabbage. Season with salt and pepper. Add a final layer of the remaining potatoes, season with salt and pepper and cover with a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Remove from the oven, cover loosely with a tea towel and let rest for 30 minutes to two hours.

Cut into wedges and enjoy.

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This simple dish, with its bright acidity and earthy sweetness, is a delicious contrast to such rich foods as Irish stew and colcannon.

Braised Leeks with Mustard Vinaigrette

Makes 3 to 4 servings (easily doubled)

Mustard Vinaigrette (see note below)

8 medium leeks or 4 large leeks, darkest green tops removed

3 tablespoons butter

Kosher salt

½ cup white wine

½ cup homemade chicken stock

1 thyme sprig

1 strip lemon zest, about 3-inches-by 2-inches

Black pepper in a mill

Juice of 1 lemon

Make the mustard vinaigrette and set it aside.

Fill a wide bowl with warm water.

Cut each leek in half lengthwise, cutting to but not through the root end; the leeks should remain connected to their root.

Put the cut leeks in the warm water and gently swish and turn them to loosen any dirt and sand. Let sit in the warm water for 15 minutes. Drain, repeat and drain thoroughly.

Put the butter into a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the leeks and turn them gently to coat them. Cook, adjusting the heat so they do not burn, until they start to soften, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Season with salt; add the wine, stock and thyme sprig; cover the pan; reduce the heat to low and cook until the leeks are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size.

Remove from the heat and, working quickly, transfer the leeks to a wide, shallow serving bowl. Increase the heat under the pan, add the lemon juice and cook until the liquid has thickened and a scant ⅓ cup remains. Pour over the leeks, spoon the vinaigrette on top and enjoy hot or at room temperature.

Variation: Add a sieved egg to the leeks, after spooning the vinaigrette over them. A sieved egg is simply a hard-cooked egg grated on the smallest blade of a box grater.

Note: To make a simple mustard vinaigrette, put one small minced shallot into a bowl and add 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard. Stir and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and correct for salt, if needed. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and add several turns of black pepper. Taste and correct for salt and acid balance.

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This recipe comes from a sweet little book, “Irish Countryhouse Cooking,” a collection of recipes from home cooks throughout Ireland written by Rosie Tinne in 1974. It is a great substitute for an Irish coffee in your favorite bar, which isn’t available to us quite yet.

Irish Coffee Jelly

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups very strong coffee

2 tablespoons superfine sugar, plus more to taste

2 envelopes (½ ounce) powdered gelatin

1½ cups Irish whiskey

½ cup heavy cream

Put the coffee into a small saucepan, add the sugar and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the coffee just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat, add the gelatin and stir until it is completely dissolved. Let cool a bit longer and stir in the whiskey.

Divide the liquid jelly into small serving glasses or cups and chill until completely set, about 2 hours (more or less depending on the size of the container).

To serve, use a whisk to whip the cream. Add a dollop to each portion and serve immediately.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Mustard.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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