Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cookbook #12: The New Irish Table

Adapted from Cookbook # 12:  The New Irish Table  (2003)

Recipe:  Poached Leeks with Pink Peppercorn Dressing

I ran a little behind this week with the post, but Sunday still counts as this week, right?  And in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I bring to you one of my two Irish cookbooks.  You might be thinking that one Irish cookbook is plenty, but I needed two.  Really, I did.  This Irish cookbook has 70 contemporary Irish dishes, while my other cookbook (which will make its appearance here sometime soon) has more traditional country cooking.  And I will have a lot to say about that when the time comes.

But let's focus on this cookbook.  Contemporary Irish cooking is pretty darned delightful.  When I was in college, I studied abroad in Galway,  and about five years ago I spent a summer in Donegal and Sligo. Back in college, I was on a tight budget.  Galway was the place to be:  I remember getting hearty bean soups and Irish soda bread for very little money at a little shop near (appropriately named) Shop Street and near Nora Barnacle's childhood home.  And the pastries.  Oh, sweet Jesus, the pastries: scones, rolls, breads, and little cakes.  When not stuffing my face with carbs, I ate a lot of fish and chips.  With a lot of vinegar.  A lot.  Years later, when I returned to Sligo, I had a little more money, and I was able to eat in better, or at least more expensive, restaurants.  (Many of which overlook the River Garavogue--perfect for both people and swan watching).  This time I traveled completely on my own, so with my journal as my company, I sampled the Indian and Italian influences on Irish cooking, and the almost Californian (fresh, local, and organic) infusion.  Simpler, lighter, and internationally-inspired foods.  The days of beef stew and a pint of Guinness as your only options are long gone by.


Of course, here we are in March.  So the husband and I had the requisite corned beef on the 17th.  Sadly this year, we got too small of a hunk of meat, so we didn't have enough left over for hash.   Truly a travesty.  As is fitting, however, there is no corned beef recipe in this contemporary cookbook, but there are plenty of other interesting recipes:  Loin of Bacon (!) with Cranberry-Cider Jus, Beef Medallions with Port Sauce and Cashel Blue Cheese, and Lamb Cutlets with Honey, Apricot and Tarragon Sauce.  Of course, the cookbook boasts some old, wonderful standbys:  Champ (mashed potatoes with green onions and lots of butter), Boxty (raw and cooked mashed potatoes pressed into patties and fried), and Braised Cabbage.  And all of this comes from Margaret Johnson a rather prolific writer and lover of Irish fare.  She has many more cookbooks, each with a slightly different take on the food of Ireland, but this one has gorgeous pictures, both of the food and of the places.  It's almost like looking through an old photo album, assuming one were a professional photographer.   Which I am not.  So this is better than my old photo album.

Admittedly, I had to go to page 120 with this thin volume, and lucky for me, leeks are in season.  A quick trip to the farmer's market for these beautiful little leeks from Happy Boy Farms, and we had a suitable, superfast, and contemporary Irish sidedish.  Word to the wise, the expensive red peppercorn is not truly pepper but a dried berry from a tree related to the rose bush.  The flavor is similar to black pepper but a little sweeter and milder. I would say that the dressing is a little on the oily side, and for my taste, I cut it down considerably (and the leeks were so yummy coming just out of the poaching stock it seemed almost a crime to put anything but salt and pepper on them).  And our leeks were little, so we used a little more of the green than I would like, but it was all pretty darned tasty.

Finally, in honor of Galway's darling Nora Barnacle, mostly because I think she's a hoot, and because her relationship with James Joyce was, well, undeniably human, I give you this:  "I can't sleep anymore... I go to bed and then that man sits in the next room and continues laughing about his own writing. And then I knock at the door, and I say, now Jim, stop writing or stop laughing!"

Don't you love it?

"That man." 

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Yield:
6 servings

Ingredients:
8-10 leeks, white part only, halved lengthwise
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3-6 tablespoons olive oil (depending on taste)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup pink peppercorn, lightly crushed
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions:
1.   Cut each leek half into a 6-inch length and rinse well under running water.  In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil.  Add the leeks and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender.  Transfer to a serving dish.

2.  While the leeks are cooking, make the dressing.  In a jar with a lid, combine the vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, peppercorns, and pepper.  Shake well to blend.  Pour the vinaigrette over the drained leeks while they are still warm.

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