Co-op Blog

Eats for St. Paddy’s: The Humble Potato

Hold on to your shamrocks – St. Patrick’s Day is coming up on March 17th. Modern celebrations of this holiday are often centered around lucky charms and drinking lots of beer, activities that have little to do with the actual historical saint.

The May 17th celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was established in 1631, nearly 12 centuries after the Patron Saint of Ireland died. According to researchers, little is known about who he actually was, except that he had been born a Roman citizen in Britain and converted Irish Druids to Christianity in the 5th century.

Get Back to Your Roots (and Tubers)

Of the foods consumed on St. Patrick’s Day, few have fused with the Irish identity as the potato. But those sturdy tubers are not merely the stuff comfort food is made of. Spuds are also the number one vegetable crop in the United States – and the fifth most important crop worldwide after wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane.

With nearly 100 different varieties of potatoes, read more about them in this Co+op Potato guide, many Americans are familiar with brown russets, Yukon golds and red potatoes. The National Potato Council (a great resource for potato facts) reports the average American consumes almost 120 pounds of spuds each year.

The potato is thought to have been first domesticated by the Andeans and Incans of South America as early as 500 B.C. Following Spanish arrival in 1532, potatoes were introduced to France and the Netherlands. The first potatoes arrived in the American colonies in 1621 when Nathaniel Butler, the Governor of Bermuda, sent potatoes and other vegetables to the governor of Virginia, Francis Wyatt.

Potatoes became popular in Europe as farmers discovered they could cultivate the tubers on a large scale and on fallow grain land. The crop provided a relatively inexpensive source of nutrients and potatoes became a staple crop by the end of the 18th century. Famously, Ireland relied so heavily on potatoes that a blight in 1845 that decimated the crop caused one of the deadliest famines in history.

Read on for some tasty recipes featuring potatoes. These dishes are great for everyday celebrations or St. Patrick’s Day’s!

Irish Bangers & Mash

Recipe from Co+op. A filling, traditional Irish dish. And the translation? “Bangers” are pan-cooked pork sausage and “mash” is mashed potatoes with cabbage and onions. Makes a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups chopped or shredded cabbage
  • 2 1/2 cups onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, unsalted
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 links CURED pork sausage
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, cover the potatoes with water. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes, or until tender. As the potatoes are cooking, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add cabbage and 1/2 cup onion and sauteé until soft but not brown. Remove from heat and reserve.

Drain the cooked potatoes and mash by hand. Incorporate the milk and butter into the potatoes until well mixed, and fold in the cooked cabbage and onions. Season to taste.

Fry sausage in another skillet over medium-high heat, until browned. Remove the sausage from the pan. In the pan juices, sauteé 2 cups chopped onion until lightly browned. Add beef broth, bring to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes. Thicken with cornstarch, if desired. Place one scoop of potatoes in the center of a serving plate, top with two sausages, a side of green peas, and cover with gravy.

Colcannon

Photo: brit.co

A great family dish, Colcannon is also a tasty accompaniment to seafood, steaks, grilled chicken, marinated tofu and other main dishes.

Take the appeal of mashed potatoes and add a few zesty and nutritious items like leeks, cabbage and/or kale greens. There are many variations on the classic Irish Colcannon recipe, depending on what you have on hand. Use cabbage, kale or mixed hardy greens. Serve with extra butter and crumbled bacon if desired. Some folks substitute some of the potatoes for parsnips or carrots. Get creative – try a vegetable combination that works for you! If you have any leftovers (doubtful?), make crispy Colcannon Cakes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs russet potatoes (about 4) cut into large chunks (peel if desired)
  • 1 leek, rinsed, trimmed and diced
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cups cabbage or kale, chopped
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Directions:

Pre-heat broiler. Place potatoes in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Mash with a mashed or potato ricer, keep in covered pan to keep warm.

Heat a separate large saucepan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons butter, leek, cabbage/kale, milk and nutmeg. Cook, stirring constantly for about 15 minutes, until tender and translucent but not browned. Stir mixture into potatoes.

Spread mixture in an 8-inch square baking dish. Make a small well in the center, and place under the broiler until lightly browned on top, about 5 minutes. Remove from broiler. Place remaining 2 tablespoons butter in well. Serve immediately, spooning melted butter from well onto each serving, if desired.

By: Claire

ClaireClaire Harlock Garber loves to eat and drink and write about it. She has worked in the food industry for nearly a decade and was on staff at the Skagit Valley Co-op from 2010-2018, writing the regular columns Skagit Brew Corner, The Cheese Whisperer, The Bounty of Bulk, and What's Dippin' in the Well for the Co-op's blog, as well as articles for the Natural Enquirer newsletter.