Ah, Paddy’s Day.
Those Facebook memories that keep popping up remind me that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a fun family holiday. Things just seem to happen for me around this time of year – good things.
Luck of the Irish? Perhaps. Or maybe we’re all just in better moods because the sun tends to come out in March. The trees start to bud, my garden starts to grow, the end of calving season (and; therefore, around-the-clock cow monitoring) is in sight and the air feels significantly warmer.
This time eight years ago, Patrick and I were embarking on a three-month-long backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. Facebook tells me we were in Java, Indonesia. We just climbed Gunung Bromo, a small active volcano, and were en route to Yogyakarta – a city we absolutely loved.
This time four years ago, we were getting ready to leave Toronto for good. I was very excited and a little bit worried. After all, I was nearly six months pregnant and we were both leaving good jobs behind, with no work prospects in Ireland. I loved my work in Toronto but didn’t love living in the city. I couldn’t deal with the prospect of raising my kids so far away from family. Moving to Ireland, as you may have guessed, has worked out brilliantly. We are happy and thriving (and working!).
This time three years ago we were in Portugal on our first-ever family holiday with Maeve. She was seven months old and we had a wonderful time in Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro. The weather was warm and sunny (but not too hot) and we visited with friends I hadn’t seen in years.
And this year? One of my best friends is coming to stay with her 10-month-old baby boy. When they go home, Patrick and I are going to Galway for a few nights to eat, drink and relax sans children. So yeah, March brings good things, and St. Patrick’s Day is just one of them.
I remember Paddy’s Days of the past. In university, in Korea, in (yes!) Yogyakarta and, of course, here in Ireland, I’ve had some crazy times. These days our Paddy’s Day tends to be quieter and more kid-focused. Coffee at a friend’s house, taking the kids to the parade, making green pancakes for breakfast – all of these things are quickly replacing the pub breakfasts and day-long drinking sessions of the past.
Bacon and cabbage is becoming tradition, too. While North Americans gorge themselves on corned beef, the Irish will generally sit down to a family meal of just about anything (Chinese takeaway? I wouldn’t say no). At our house, I usually make a big feed of bacon and cabbage for us and any other family members milling around the farm.
The parsley sauce is entirely optional, but I like it. A lot of people eat their bacon and cabbage with a schmear of English mustard or the ubiquitous brown sauce, but I think it’s more of a complete meal with the parsley sauce (also, it will impress your friends if you want to make this for a Paddy’s Day dinner party). It tastes fancy but is so easy to make.
The dish is called Bacon & Cabbage, but it wouldn’t be the same kind of bacon you have with your scrambled eggs. Here, a loin of ham is called a joint of bacon. You can get them smoked or unsmoked. Just ask your butcher, or, when in doubt, get some uncooked ham. It’s basically the same thing. Bacon and cabbage is usually served with mashed potatoes, but I love boiling new potatoes with the skin-on this time of year.
Whatever you end up doing for Paddy’s Day, I hope it’s great and full of delicious food, drink and loved ones. Sláinte mhath!
Bacon & Cabbage with Parsley Cream Sauce
Bacon & Cabbage:
1-2 kg ham/bacon joint (cured and uncooked, ask your local butcher!)
1-2 large head savoy or green cabbage
4L chicken stock
1-2 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
½ cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ glass dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
- In a large pot, bring the ham, stock, bay leaves and thyme to a simmer. Simmer the ham/bacon for about 1 hour – or until the ham is cooked through.
- While the ham is cooking, prep your cabbage: using a large knife, cut out the core and slice the head of cabbage into large wedges. Leave the wedges whole and set aside while the ham cooks.
- When the ham is cooked, remove the ham, bay leaves and thyme from the pot. Add the cabbage to the remaining broth and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
- Make the parsley sauce: in a hot saucepan, add the butter and garlic. Cook for 30 seconds – don’t let the garlic brown. Add the wine and reduce by half, then add the cream. Let the cream boil and thicken for a few minutes – you want the sauce to coat the back of a spoon.
- When the cream is thickened, add the chopped parsley and season with Dijon, salt and pepper.
- Slice the ham and add it back into the broth with the cabbage wedges, just to heat through.
- Depending on the size of your bacon (I usually buy a 1kg joint), this will feed 4-6 people. Serve hot with boiled or mashed potatoes.