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St. Patrick's Day the easy way

 

Last updated 3/16/2021 at 1:15pm

My first love is culinary history. Researching, reading and writing about the history of food and recipes is what fuels my passion to share what I've learned in my cookbooks and the articles that I write for newspapers, blogs and magazines.

When I was asked to write a column about St. Patrick's Day, I discovered the fascinating history of Irish potatoes. The people of Ireland embraced the potato around 1780. The crop rapidly became the primary source of food for most of the population.

Potatoes are nourishing and filling, and contain most of the vitamins needed in our daily diet. The crop also is a popular food source around the world because it only requires an acre of land and will grow under almost any conditions.

An Irish potato is covered with an off-white or cream-colored skin. The flesh is creamy white. Black flecks or marks often mottle the flesh of the potato, but have no impact on the flavor. An Irish potato is waxy, which makes it hold its shape when boiled, a common cooking technique in Ireland. The potatoes also are delicious when fried, roasted or broiled. However, the potato's waxy texture makes it gluey and dense when mashed, so select another variety like a Russet or Yukon gold for this purpose.

In the mid-1800s, a disease caused by a fungus infested potato crops throughout Europe, causing a devastating famine in Ireland. This time period is called the Great Famine or Gorta Mor, meaning "the great hunger." Mass emigration coupled with widespread deaths from starvation caused the Irish population to drop by 20-25 percent. Many Irish families immigrated to America to escape the hardships in Ireland and to start a new life. By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

After years of suffering in Ireland, in 1883, the French botanist Alexandre Millardet discovered an effective fungicide to combat the potato blight. Today, potatoes are the world's fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat and maize. Here's a link to a fascinating animated history about the Irish potato: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/history-through-the-eyes-of-the-potato.

My recipe for Irish Sheet Pan Potatoes, Sausage and Cabbage Bake is an easy way to incorporate the flavor components of a traditional, long-simmering Irish stew in half the time. It also provides the perfect showcase for Irish potatoes while creating a warm and comforting family meal for a St. Patrick's Day or any day of the week.

IRISH SHEET PAN POTATOES, SAUSAGE AND CABBAGE BAKE

3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil, divided

2 pounds Irish potatoes, quartered

1/2 head green cabbage, sliced into chunks

1 bulb fennel or 3 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and diced

1 1/2 tablespoons poultry seasoning

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

6 links (about 3-ounces each) Irish banger sausage links, Kielbasa or Bratwurst links

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

2. Lightly coat a rimmed, 9-by-13 or 18-by-13 baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, or spray until lightly coated with cooking oil spray.

3. Place the Irish potatoes, cabbage, fennel or celery, onion and garlic on the sheet pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetable mixture. Sprinkle the poultry seasoning, salt, pepper and allspice over the mixture. Combine the mixture with the seasonings with your clean hands or a spoon or spatula.

4. Spread the mixture evenly around the baking sheet and press the ingredients into the bottom of the pan so that everything cooks uniformly. Place the sausages evenly on top of the vegetable mixture.

5. Cook for 20 minutes, stir, press the vegetable mixture into the bottom of the pan so that it is evenly distributed, and turn the sausages over to cook on the other side. Then cook for an additional 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve with thick slices of hot crusty bread and butter. Serves 6.

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Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children's author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is "The Kitchen Diva's Diabetic Cookbook." Her website is http://www.divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.

(c) 2021 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis

 

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