Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish that showcases the true brilliance of that culture’s rustic cuisine. Simple, staple ingredients transformed into something all together luscious and comforting. Mashed potatoes and cabbage are combined with a touch of leek and lots of rich dairy to create a dish that will fell like a welcome home, even if, like me, you’ve never been to Ireland.
I like to use napa cabbage because I find it slightly sweeter and milder, but classic green cabbage or savoy cabbage works just as well, and give a more traditional green speckle to the dish. Colcannon is a great side dish to lamb or beef, particularly corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day.
Colcannon (Irish Mashed Potatoes and Cabbage)
2 large russet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
½ head of napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)
2 large leeks, white and light green parts
½ cup (1 stick) butter, divided
1 cup buttermilk
salt to tast
Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and place in a large pot. Cover with well-salted water by about 1 inch and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until very tender and a knife slides in easily, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and place in a large bowl. Heat the buttermilk to just warm in a small pan or the microwave and add ½ cup to the potatoes. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or sturdy wooden spoon until you have a nice, creamy mash. Stir in salt to taste
While the potatoes are cooking, slice the leeks into thin half-months and rinse thoroughly in a colander. Wipe out the pot and melt ¼ cup ( ½ stick) of the butter in it. Add the leeks with some water clinging to them and cook until they begin to soften and become translucent. Stir frequently and do not le the leeks brown. Add ¼ cup of water, cover the pot and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the leeks are completely soft and translucent. Cut out the tough core of the cabbage half and slice into thin shreds. Rinse the cabbage shreds in the colander, then add them to the pot with some water clinging. Stir to combine the leeks and cabbage and coat the cabbage with the cooking juices. Cover the pot and cook until the cabbage is completely soft and wilted, about 15 minutes. Stir a few times and add a few tablespoons more water if there is any worry of the cabbage scorching or sticking.
When the cabbage is cooked, add it to the potatoes in the bowl and fold through. Add buttermilk as needed to create a creamy, rich texture and salt as needed.
Scoop the colcannon into a large serving bowl and make a well in the center. Cut the butter into small pats and place in the well to melt. Serve scoops of colcannon with the melting butter.
Serves 4 – 6
Mardi Gras is a fun season for food. Not only can you draw from the great canon of Louisiana cooking, you can play with the bright signature colors of purple, green and gold and be a little silly. This slaw is simple but the multi-colored vegetables and the tangy dressing make it a special dish. It is beautiful served beside or on top of a po’ boy, but is also a great starter or side with other favorites like Shrimp Creole or Red Beans and Rice or Grillades and Grits. But this slaw is also beautiful at a summer barbecue or picnic, long after Mardi Gras season has passed.
Mardi Gras Slaw
For the dressing:
1/3 cup creole mustard (I use Zatarain’s)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
a couple of dashes of hot sauce
For the slaw:
½ head purple cabbage
½ head green cabbage
2 yellow bell peppers
For the dressing:
Blend all the ingredients together in a blender or in a small bowl with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the dressing is creamy.
For the Slaw:
Cut out the core of each cabbage half. Slice the cabbage with the slicing blade of a food processor. You’ll need to do this in batches. Transfer the sliced cabbage to a very big bowl. Remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers and finely dice. Add to the cabbage in the bowl. Use you clean hands to toss everything around until evenly distributed. Discard any large cabbage pieces or remnants of hard core.
Give the dressing a last whisk to make sure it is creamy and pour it over the slaw. Stir and toss to coat everything well. I like to do this with clean hands as well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend. This is best served soon after it is made, but will keep for up to a day.
Serve 10 – 12
I adhere very solidly to tradition of eating black eyed peas and greens on New Year’s day for luck and prosperity. I have a wonderful New Year’s Eve tradition, so on New Year’s Day, I usually sleep in, then curl up on the couch with a book while a pot of peas and some collards stew away on the stove – minimal prep and minimal work. But this cast-iron skillet, bacon-fried version of collards is a quicker method, if you don’t get around to cooking until its almost time for dinner. If you really sleep in after a night out. Or they make an excellent accompaniment to a bowl of slow-cooked peas.
I think these are collards for people who don’t like collards. The bacon of courses helps, as does the fact that these are thin strands of greens, rather than a big leaf. And the sugar slightly caramelizes the greens and the bacon, adding an interesting touch of sweet. A big bunch of collards wilts down to a small amount – this makes about 2 cups of cooked greens, so its just enough for a small side. These are really interesting used as a garnish on a big bowl of black eyed peas or hopping john, just place a tangle of the collards on top. They could even add an extra dimension to soft, slow cooked collards. You can certainly double the recipe or make multiple batches.
Cast Iron Collards
1 large bunch collard greens
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
6 strips bacon
1 garlic clove
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Cut the leaves of the collards away from the hard center stems. Stack the leaves up in bunches of about 6, then roll each bunch into a cigar. Cut the collards into thin ribbons. Place the collard ribbons in a colander, shuffling them around to make sure they are well separated. Rinse the collards thoroughly and shake as much water of as possible. Lay the collard ribbons out on a tea towel, then roll them up in the towel to blot off as much water as you can. A little damp is fine, soaking wet will be a problem when you add them to the bacon grease.
Put the vegetable oil and bacon strips into a large, deep cast iron skillet and cook over medium heat until the bacon is very crispy and the fat has rendered out. Do not be tempted to raise the heat or the grease will get too hot and scorch the greens. When the bacon is crispy, remove it to paper towels to drain. Drop the garlic clove and the red pepper flakes into the pan and cook for just until the garlic starts to brown and is fragrant, about 20 seconds. Remove the garlic clove.
Carefully add the collards to the pan, standing back because the moisture on the greens will spit. Stir the collards to coat in the bacon fat and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes until the greens are wilted. Add the sugar, baking soda and salt and stir well. Chop the bacon into rough pieces, add them to the greens and stir. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook the greens for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are tender. Watch carefully so they do not burn. The greens will be dark and soft, with a few crispy edges here and there.
Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little pepper vinegar if you’d like.
Serves 4 as an accompaniment
Tabbouleh is the perfect summer farmers market dish – fresh herbs and vegetables tossed with fine grains for a fresh, cool salad. But has always been underwhelming to me. Too bland, too dry, I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to love it, but never had.
Until a conversation at a party about family recipes. A lovely woman from Mississippi was telling me about some of her family’s traditional Lebanese dishes, filtered through generations in the Missisippi Delta. She mentioned in passing that her family always soak the bulgur in lemon juice. That idea stuck with me as a way to pep up the dish. And it does. This version of tabbouleh is bright with lemon juice, really tart and unique. I love lots of fresh herbs, but have added a few spices for a little flair. So now I like tabbouleh – my way. I make this for parties and cook outs, but also just to keep a bowl in the fridge for quick lunches and snacks.
But here’s the thing about tabbouleh. This is my blueprint, lifted from someone else’s recipe. You can do what you want. More tomatoes or cucumbers, no garlic, a little chopped hot pepper. What you find at your market or in the garden. I do offer some hints. I like to give my knife and board a workout and finely chop all the ingredients, so each bite has a good mix of flavors, rather than a big chunk of tomato or cucumber or a big parsley leaf. With all the lemony tang, I’ve never really thought this needed salt, but do as you will.
Summer Market Tabbouleh
½ cup fine bulgur wheat
¼ cup lemon juice
2 plum tomatoes
1 cucumber, seed scooped out
1 green onions, white and light green parts
1 small garlic clove
½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon sumac
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon coriander
Place the bulgur in a bowl. Then mix the lemon juice and ¾ cup water in a pan and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid over the bulgur and give it a good stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 minutes.
While the bulgur is soaking, finely chop the tomato, cucumber, green onions and place in a large bowl. Pass the garlic clove through a press into the bowl, or chop it to a fine paste on a board and add it. Finely chop the herbs and add to the bowl. Add the olive oil, sumac, cinnamon and coriander to the bowl and stir well to blend everything. Set aside.
When the fifteen minutes have passed, uncover the bulgur and fluff with a fork. If there is any liquid in the bowl or the bulgur seems wet, place it on a fine sieve and press out any liquid. Return to the bowl and fluff with the fork. Leave the bulgur to cool for about 5 minutes.
Scrape the bulgur into the tomato cucumber mix and use a fork to mix everything together, breaking up any clumps in the bulgur and scraping the sides and the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld.
Serves 4 as a side dish, easily doubles.
I spend a great deal of time in the summer putting up gorgeous fresh tomatoes for winter. Almost as much time as I do eating them. Ziptop bags full of sauce and soup base. Salsa, bloody mary mix and chutney in jars. And this, my favorite tomato condiment. I discovered recipes for tomato butter in several very old community cookbooks. The kind of recipes that call for a peck of tomatoes and sugar, just sugar no measurements. I was intrigued first by the name – I make lots of fruit butters, but had never thought about doing it with tomatoes. Then I was drawn in by the addition of vinegar; I could see how a hit of acid would really balance the sweetness of the tomatoes and sugar. So I set to work scaling this to a recipe more reasonable for my needs. And I love it.
Tomato butter has a jam like consistency and a deep, glossy, rich red color. It is sweet and tart, perfectly playing on all the attributes of a good tomato. Try this on a hamburger, and you may never go back to ketchup again. It is excellent dolloped on a steak or a piece of fish. It makes a wonderful mid-winter BLT and it is an elegant addition to a cheeseboard. My favorite usage is spread thick on good bread bought from a local baker, a few thick sliced of creamy brie and some smoky bacon, toasted and pressed. And I warn you, once you start making this, it may become an addiction.
5 pounds tomatoes, peeled
2 cups sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
First, place a small ceramic plate in the freezer. You’ll use this this to test the set of the jam later. Then get your jars clean. You will need 5 -6 half-pint mason jars (I always have an extra on hand in case I need it). I clean the jars and the rings in the dishwasher, and leave them in there with the door closed to stay warm. You can’t put the lids in the dishwasher, it will ruin them.
Chop the tomatoes and place them in a large Dutch oven with the sugar and vinegar. Stir everything together, then turn the heat to medium and simmer until the tomatoes begin to break down and become soft, about 15 minutes. Blend the tomatoes with an immersion blender until you have a smooth puree. Lower the heat and continue simmering the jam, stirring frequently, until the liquid has reduced and the mixture is thick and spreadable. This could take anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour, depending on how juicy your tomatoes are. As the mixture thinks, stir more often and watch carefully to prevent scorching.
When the jam has cooked down and is thickened, pull that little plate out of the freezer and spoon a little jam onto it. Leave to set for a minute, then tilt the plate. If the jam stays put, or only runs a little bit, it’sready. Also, run a finger through the jam on the plate if the two sides stay separate and don’t run back together, you’re good to go.
While you jam is cooking, get a boiling water canner or big stockpot of water going. Here are step-by step instructions for processing jam in a canner. When the jam is almost ready, pour some boiling water over the jar lids jars to soften the seals and set aside.
When the jam has met the set test, remove it from the heat. I like to ladle the jam into a large measuring jug for easy pouring. Fill each of your warm, cleaned jars with the jam, leaving a ½ inch head space. Wipe the rimes of the jars with a damp paper towel to clean up any sticky spills. Dry the lids with a clean paper towel and place on the jars. Screw on the bands tightly, then process the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you have a bit of extra jam, scoop it into a refrigerator container and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
When the jars are processed, leave to cool on a towel on the counter.
The processed jars will keep for a year in a cool, dark place. Don’t forget to label your jars!
Makes 3 – 4 (½ pint) jars, plus a little extra
I have also made this in the slow cooker. To do this, place all the ingredients in the cooker and cook uncovered for 12 – 14 hours until set. Puree the tomatoes when they are soft.
My love of field peas has been declared far and wide. I generally grab bags from the farmers market, put some up in the freezer for a mid-winter summer meal. Then I throw some in my field pea pot with whatever pork product I have around. Salt pork, bacon, country ham, fatback. My summer Saturday dinner. But not so with lady peas. Lady peas are delicate and dainty – I am assuming that’s where the name comes from, and too much salty, strong pork overwhelms them. So I like to treat them with a gentler hand. Bright and sharp celery, a light addition of garlic and classic onion and bay flavor the peas, and butter enriches the whole dish, adding a lovely glaze. This version is simmered uncovered so the liquid reduces to burnish the peas. There is just enough potlikker to soak up with some tangy buttermilk hoecakes.
Butter Braised Lady Peas
1 pound of fresh lady peas
2 cloves garlic
1 stalk celery, cut into chunks, with the leaves
1 small onion
2 bay leaves
¼ cup ( ½ stick) of butter
Place the lady peas in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to settle for 30 minutes, then scoop off any floaters. Pick out any bruised peas, then lift the peas out of the water into a saucepan using your hands. Don’t pour through a strainer, the dirt only gets on the peas again.
Nestle the garlic, celery onion and bay leaves in the peas and add fresh water to just barely cover. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam or scum that rises. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the butter. Simmer the peas, uncovered, for 1 hour until soft and tender but still holding their shape. Remove the celery, onion, garlic and bay leaves and add salt to taste. Serve warm.
Serves 4 – 6
Buttermilk Hoe Cakes
½ cup soft wheat flour, like White Lily
½ cup stone ground cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup buttermilk
3 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons melted butter
oil for frying
Stir the flour, cornmeal salt and baking powder together with a fork. Measure the buttermilk and water together, then crack in the egg and stir in the melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until thoroughly mixed. The batter should be loose but thick. Add a little more buttermilk if needed.
Heat a couple of Tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet (you can add a little butter or bacon grease if you’d like). Drop about 3 Tablespoons of batter for each hoecake into the oil. Cook about 3 minutes per side, then flip and cook the other side until brown and cooked through.
Remove the hoecakes to paper towels to drain.
Makes about 8 hoecakes
My go to baked bean dish for many years has been my Brilliant Baked Beans made with a variety of canned beans. And I love those beans. But eventually, I started fiddling around with dried beans to recreate memories of New England style baked beans I’d enjoyed when I lived in the area. I like those too. Then I started to find fresh shelly beans and October beans at my local farmers market and decided I could surely make a delicious Southern-style version for summer cook-outs. So now this is my favorite baked bean dish. For summer, when I get fresh beans. In winter, I still make maple syrup rich beans from dried yellow-eyes, and the canned version when I want a large quantity quick. In short, yeah, I like baked beans.
The shelly beans that are sold around here are plump with a lovely burgundy speckled-surface. They are similar to borlotti or cranberry beans, which you may find at gourmet markets.
Southern Baked Shelly Beans
1 pound fresh shelly beans
½ a Vidalia onion
4 ounces salt pork (or bacon)
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves
½ cup sorghum
½ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Soak the beans in cold water for 30 minutes. Scoop out any beans that float and discard. Use your hands to scoop the beans into a large pot. This way, any dirt and grit stays in the bowl. Pick over the beans and remove any discolored or shrunken beans
Cover the beans with fresh cold water by 2 inches. Peel the onion and cut in half vertically. If you leave the stem intact, just pulling off any hairy bits, the onion will hold together better during cooking. Tuck the onion half, salt pork, garlic and bay leaves down into the beans. Bring to a boil, skim off any foam that rises, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pot and simmer the beans for 45 minutes.
Mix the sorghum, brown sugar, vinegar, bourbon and mustard into a thick paste in a small bowl. Scrape the paste into the beans, stir gently to combine, cover the pot and simmer for a further 2 hours.
Stir in salt to taste and cook the beans uncovered until the sauce is thick and reduced and the beans are tender.
Quick, simple and delicious. What more could you want in a summer meal? The trick here is that blistering the tomatoes gives them a rich, almost slow-roasted taste. I love this with the Italianate taste of oregano, but basil or thyme work wonderfully well too. I generally serve this over pasta, but it makes a great topping for bruschetta or a pizza.
Blistered Tomato Sauce
1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large skillet over high heat until it is blisteringly hot. Flick a drop of water on it and it should dance and bounce around. Tumble the tomatoes into the pan, reduce the heat to medium and cover the skillet. Cook the tomatoes for 4 – 5 minutes, shaking the covered pan several times.
Remove the lid from the skillet and pour in the olive oil. The tomatoes will be slightly blackened and charred. Sprinkle over the garlic, oregano and sugar and stir. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes or so, crushing the tomatoes with a spatula or the back of the spoon until you have a nice, chunky sauce. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
I love squash blossoms, as I have said before. So imagine my delight on my recent trip to Tepotzlan in the central mountains of Mexico, to find squash blossoms used in a huge variety of dishes. I had freshly made quesadillas with Oaxaca cheese for breakfast each morning, and stalls in the market offered sautéed squash blossoms as an add-in for tacos. The restaurant at the hotel offered them in more nuanced dishes. But perhaps the best use of squash blossoms I have ever experienced was hand made incorporated into hand made tamales at Cocinar Mexicano cooking school. I could never duplicate that experience, so I guess I’ll have to go back someday.
But the quesadillas I could copy. I wanted to zazz them up a little, so I came up with a simple squash salsa. After all, where there are blossoms there are squash. For me, this is all about the blossoms, so I don’t want to mask their flavor too much. Many of the taco vendors in Tepotzlan, and many of the recipes I’ve read at home include poblano peppers, but I’ve left that out so the blossoms sing. I only use a small amount of jalapeno in the salsa for the same reason; the squash should really shine through. That’s also why I use mild flour or white corn tortillas.
Oaxaca cheese is a mild, stringy melting cheese that I find easily at an ethnic market and frequently at my regular grocery. If you can’t find it, shredded mozzarella is a decent substitute. This recipe makes 5 quesadillas and enough salsa to accompany them. It’s an odd number, I know, but it is hard around these parts to get squash blossoms in bulk, and 2 dozen is about all I can wrangle from my grower at a time (he doesn’t want me to corner the market). If you can get your hands on more, please feel free to double the recipe. Cut in half, these quesadillas make ten lovely little nibbles with a cold Mexican beer. The squash salsa is also good with corn chips, or over a grilled fish.
Squash Blossom Quesadillas with Summer Squash Salsa
For the salsa:
½ cup diced onion
1 cup finely diced summer squash, divided (about 1 large squash)
1 plum tomato
1-inch piece of jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
2 Tablespoons cilantro leaves
1 clove garlic
2 squash blossoms
Juice of half a lime
For the quesadillas:
20 squash blossoms
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ cup diced onion
4 ounces Oaxaca cheese, shredded into strings, or mozzarella
5 small flour or white corn tortillas
For the salsa:
Place the onion, ½ cup of the squash, the tomato, pepper, cilantro, lime juice, garlic and squash blossoms in a blender and blend until you have a chunky puree.
Pour the oil into a large skillet and add the remaining diced squash. Sauté over medium high heat for about 3 minutes, until the squash is slightly softened. Add the puree from the blender and cook for a further 3 -5 minutes, until the salsa is thickened and any excess liquid has evaporated. Salt to taste Set aside to cool.
For the quesadillas:
Pull any hard stems and spike leaves off the blossoms and pull the stamen out of the center. Shred the blossoms into narrow strands, using your fingers or scissors. Pour the olive oil into a skillet and ad the onions. Sauté over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but do not brown, about 8 minutes. Reserve a handful of the shredded squash blossoms, and then add the rest to the onions in the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the blossoms are soft and wilted. Take the filling off the heat.
Lay the tortillas on the counter (if you use white corn tortillas, wrap them in a wet paper towel and zap them in the microwave for 15 seconds to soften). Layer about an ounce of cheese and a good dollop of the squash blossom filling over on each. Sprinkle a few of the remaining strands of squash blossom over each, then fold in half.
Heat a skillet to high heat and cook the quesadillas two at a time until the cheese is melted and each side is golden brown.
Serve immediately with the squash salsa.
Makes 5 quesadillas
Panzanella a genius example of creative leftover usage. It’s a classic Tuscan salad of stale bread and over-ripe tomatoes, tossed with basil and moistened with olive oil and vinegar. But the beautiful colors and bright fresh flavors make it elegantly simple, the kind of food you imagine yourself throwing together if you lived in a stone house in the Italian hills.
This is my riff on a panzanella, perfect for a quick summer supper. It was born of leftovers too. Bits of the delicious bread bought at the farmers that I didn’t eat immediately, those last few baby tomatoes, a handful of basil from my patch. The creamy mozzarella takes it close to a classic caprese salad, and adds that nice gooey richness that makes it a meal. It takes minutes to prepare but makes a delicious, elegant dish. A nice drizzle of quality olive oil is the perfect finishing touch – you could even drizzle a little extra balsamic on if you fancy. I think the simple version highlights the bursting tomatoes and fresh herbs, but feel free to add some garlic or diced onion.
8 ounces soft Italian bread
6 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
1 8-ounce ball mozzarella cheese
7 – 8 large basil leaves
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and 8 by 8 inch square baking dish. Cut or tear the bread into bite size chinks and scatter in the baking dish. Nestle the tomatoes between the cubes, spreading them out as much as possible. Cut the mozzarella into pieces, roughly the size of the tomatoes, and nestle them around the dish too. Tear the basil into pieces, or nicely cut it into ribbons and tuck them around the whole affair as well.
Measure the milk in a 2 cup jug, then add the eggs. Beat well, add the balsamic vinegar, salt and generous grinds of black pepper. Beat until it is all thoroughly combined. Pour the milk mixture over the bread, doing your best to distribute it evenly. Press down on the bread cubes with a knife or a spatula just to get them moist.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 15 minutes more, until the top is golden brown, the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are beginning to burst.
Serve hot, drizzled with olive oil.