Seasonal pantry: Colcannon and Scotch Broth warm the soul as St. Patrick's Day comes up
It’s certainly been a soup year, so far, hasn’t it? Soup, especially homemade soup, warms us from the inside out when nature is doing all it can to keep us shivering, cold and wet.
Even the process of making soup is a comfort, as good a distraction as, say, making risotto. It is mesmerizing and envelops us in warmth and delicious aromas.
And now it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, a time for many of us to go to our favorite bar or restaurant for corned beef and cabbage and to turn our mouths green by drinking beer with food coloring. For me, it is a favorite time to cook.
This year, because I’m still in a soup mood, that’s my focus for the holiday. If it is still cold when the holiday comes around, I might enjoy a glass of Irish whiskey with both of these soups.
Colcannon is a classic Irish side dish, often served as a casserole. But many Irish cooks and chefs also make soup based on it, as I have done here. To make the soup the centerpiece of a meal, add a big green salad and some Irish soda bread alongside.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 ounces bacon, cut into small dice
4 tablespoons butter
3-4 leeks, white and pale green parts only, split, thoroughly washed and sliced very thinly
½ green cabbage or 2 small bunches Lacinato kale
— Kosher salt
2 pounds potatoes, such as Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold, scrubbed and thinly sliced
6 cups homemade chicken stock, plus 2 cups more, if needed
½ cup creme fraiche
— Whole nutmeg
— Black pepper in a mill
1 cup heavy cream, optional
1 cup half-and-half, plus more as needed, optional
1/2 cup snipped fresh chives
Put the bacon into a large heavy pot set over medium heat and fry until it is crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer it to absorbent paper.
Add 3 tablespoons of the butter and when it is melted, add the leeks and sauté, stirring now and then, until they are very limp; adjust the heat as necessary and do not let them brown.
While the leeks cook, remove the core of the cabbage or the big stems of the kale. Cut the cabbage into very thin slices. If using kale, stalk the leaves and cut them into very thin crosswise slices.
Add the cabbage or kale to the pot and cook, stirring now and then, until it wilts, about 7 to 8 minutes. Season with salt, add the potatoes and cook for 2 minutes.
Pour in the stock, increase the heat to high and, as soon as the stock boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Use a thin spoon to remove and discard any foam or other impurities that rise to the surface.
Meanwhile, put the creme fraiche into a small bowl, add several gratings of nutmeg, several turns of black pepper and a few pinches of salt. Stir until smooth, taste and correct the seasoning. Cover and set aside.