Back then, the food scene in the Ireland consisted of lots of mushy peas and mutton, but I do have fond memories of the hearty breakfasts served up at the Bewley’s Coffee and Tea shop on O’Connell Street and various bed and breakfasts in Galway, the Aran Islands and the Dingle Peninsula.
If you’re tired of the same old Corned Beef and Cabbage, which is more American than Irish anyway, you could celebrate the day by cooking up a big, Irish breakfast, including eggs, sautéed tomatoes and an assortment of sausages and bacon. You can find Irish bacon – also known as rashers – at Martindale’s Quality Meats, 5280 Aero Dr., in the Larkfield neighborhood of Santa Rosa. It’s a thick-cut version from the back of the pig.
Or you could opt for more traditional fare. My favorite Irish feast starts with a simple potato and leek soup, finished with some of Ireland’s delicious Cashel Blue cheese. Then I sear the freshest wild salmon that I can find and serve it with a big dollop of Colcannon, a traditional Irish dish made with potatoes, kale and green onions. If I can find it, I’ll throw in some green garlic as well.
Here’s a recipe from some of my favorite Wine Country chefs, Bob Hurley of Hurley’s Restaurant & Bar in Yountville. Hurley grew up in San Francisco as the son of a “typical Irish fireman,” and hitchhiked around the Emerald Isle during his youth. He serves delicious and authentic Irish fare at his restaurant every year on St. Patrick’s Day, including this hearty soup.
In Ancient times, the watercress was the emblematic shamrock of Ireland and was believed to have sacred and magical powers. If you eat enough of it, you might even catch a glimpse of a leprechaun.
Potato, Leek and Watercress Soup
4 tablespoons butter
2 medium-sized yellow onions, peeled and chopped
3 leeks, cut in half, rinsed of dirt and chopped (white parts only)
1 quart chicken stock, homemade or good-quality
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces
1 quart half-and-half
3 bunches washed watercress
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat butter in a large saucepan and slowly cook onions and leeks. When they begin to soften and turn translucent, add stock. Bring to a boil. Then add potatoes and let simmer until potatoes begin to break down. Add half-and-half and watercress. Bring to a boil again. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and process in blender. Season to taste and served in heated bowls, garnished with a few watercress leaves.