Monday, February 16, 2009

Harvest Meal: Colcannon

A lot of our harvest meals are simply the product of using up what we've got, and trying to be a little creative with them. But we also find ourselves falling back on very old, simple recipes that hail from various traditional cuisines. Our dinner last night was one such occasion.

Colcannon is a mixture of mashed potatoes and usually cabbage, or sometimes kale. You see that? Colcannon, and kale. Does that remind you of anything? Kohlrabi? Cole slaw? Cauliflower? Collard greens? It's an old root word for cabbage. Kale is a member of the cabbage family, along with all the rest. Kohl is a surname in Germany. Mr. and Mrs. Cabbage over there. Colcannon comes from the Irish Gaelic, and there's a very similar dish in Wales with a very similar name (cawl cennin) in Welsh. Okay, I'm done playing with the words now. Here endeth the etymology lesson. On to the recipe.

You don't really need a recipe though. You know how to make mashed potatoes, right? Well you make those and you add butter, salt and pepper, some sauteed members of the onion family, and a hefty amount of either cabbage or kale. If you're feeling a little indulgent, add some parsley or chives, and maybe a little bacon. Typically a cheap but nourishing vegetarian, peasant-type dish, colcannon could even be made vegan if you so desired.

Almost everything I put into our dinner was stuff that needed to go. So I ended up with something that I would call a variation on colcannon, rather than a canonical colcannon. (Maybe not completely done playing.) We've been avoiding the last of the potatoes because they're so small that cleaning them was a bit of a pain. I got one leek out of the garden, and combined it with half an onion that had been sitting in the refrigerator. I still have bags and bags of chopped kale in the freezer, the product of our summer garden. There was also some cream, a little bit of schmaltz, and half a bunch of flat-leaf parsley hanging around in the fridge that needed using up. Oh, and some cheese that didn't do too much for us, so we weren't using it up in a raw form. This all was going in, one way or another.

After my husband had nobly scrubbed each and every tiny potato, I made the mashed spuds. While the potatoes boiled, I sauteed the chopped leek and onion in the schmaltz, seasoning generously with salt and pepper. Then I added the frozen chopped kale and let that thaw and warm up. When that was done, I added the cream that needed using up, a little over a cup, I'd say. I also grated the cheese, which was a simple farmer's cheese, probably about 6 ounces or so. When the potatoes were cooked, I added most of the cheese and a hunk of butter while mashing them up. Then I folded in the leek-kale-cream mixture. All that I put into a casserole dish, topping it with the remaining shredded cheese. I cooked it at 375 F for about half an hour, until the cheese was melted, bubbly and just beginning to darken. After letting it cool, I topped the dish with minced parsley.

I make no claims that this is an authentic version of colcannon. Traditional colcannon certainly would not have included schmaltz or cheese. Irish peasants probably wouldn't have used either of these, nor the typical quantities of dairy fat in modern versions of colcannon. However, they might have used some buttermilk. My dish is clearly in the colcannon neighborhood though. And my method of cooking - using up what we've got that needs using up - fits perfectly with traditional cooking the world over.

When all was said and done, it was delicious. The intense potato aroma coming out of the oven was incredible; a homey, comforting scent on a dark and chilly winter night. It was hard to let the dish cool enough so that we wouldn't burn our mouths. It was especially nice to see that even this long after our harvest, we can still make something so tasty and healthy out of three crops we grew ourselves (leeks, potatoes, kale). It would be a pretty cheap meal, even if we had to buy those ingredients. Best of all, there are plenty of leftovers.

Three guesses what's for breakfast. Yeah, I'm weird that way.


What's in a Name? said...

Sounds like a delicious variation on 'Bubble and Squeak'!

shanna said...

This sounds delicious and the picture is absolutely scrumptious. I'll keep this in mind to try soon.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't think your breakfasty ways are odd at all. It looks like supurb breakfast fare to me! Although I grow kale like crazy, I am growing cabbages for the first time this year. So I'm happy to see this recipe idea. Yum!

Anonymous said...

I've got all this kale and it's almost time to plant the new garden. What do you do to freeze your kale? You said it was chopped. Do you blanch it first?

Kate said...

What's in a name, I don't think I've ever seen a comment and handle more perfectly suited to one another. I think bubble and squeak pretty much is the same as colcannon. But don't quote me on that.

Shanna and Deborah, I hope the recipe works out for you. Thanks for stopping by.

Jeri, yes, putting up the kale by freezing it was a deal of work. After cleaning it, I blanched it, shocked it, drained it, and then chopped it and bagged it. It's a good thing I love this vegetable so much. Otherwise I couldn't justify the workload.

ThiftedBliss said...

Hi Kate, I am still coming to your site for your recipes-miss your posts. Hope all is well with you -happy harvest-Karen