They say March 17 is a great day for the Irish, but what good is that to the Irish cook who's stuck in the kitchen while the guests are having all the fun?
This year, consider skipping the big meals usually associated with the holiday — corned beef and cabbage, shepherd's pie, Irish stew and the like — and try one of these easy-to-assemble, make-ahead dishes that focus on two of the most Irish of all ingredients, bacon and the humble spud.
A delicious, crustless potato torte includes bacon, cabbage and Irish cheddar. And a riff on a French tartiflette, a gratin generally made with reblochon cheese, substitutes Irish Swiss. Serve with a simple green salad, your favorite wine, or a frosty Smithwick's, and you'll be back to the party in no time flat.
For these recipes I recommend authentic Irish back bacon. Tommy Moloney's brand (tommymoloneys.com; 800-431-6365) is best, but you can substitute lean Canadian bacon.
Likewise, for an authentic taste of Ireland, use Kerrygold Irish cheese and butter (kerrygold.com), which is widely available in supermarkets. Imported Cashel Blue can be found in select gourmet shops or online from igourmet.com and murrayscheese.com.
No need to go to the Emerald Isle for the spuds; our own Idaho potatoes fit the bill nicely.
Margaret M. Johnson is the author of six cookbooks, including the newly released "Tea & Crumpets" (Chronicle Books).
Cheddar-colcannon tortePrep: 25 minutes
Cook: 55 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
Mashed potatoes and buttery cabbage are the heart of colcannon, one of Ireland's most traditional dishes. This torte adds cheddar cheese and Irish bacon.
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, shredded
6 tablespoons butter
8 ounces center cut Irish bacon, diced
2 large Idaho potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch-thick
Freshly ground pepper to taste
7 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a pot of water to a boil over high heat; add cabbage. Cook 2 minutes. Drain; place in a pan of cold water. Drain; transfer to paper towels. Pat dry; place in a large bowl. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon; cook until lightly browned, 4-5 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to the cabbage; toss.
Melt remaining 3 tablespoons of the butter in the same skillet; add the potato slices and toss to coat. Sprinkle with pepper. Place one-third of the potatoes in the bottom of a buttered 9-inch deep-dish pie pan. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Top with half of the bacon and cabbage mixture. Repeat with one-third more of the potatoes and the remaining cheese, bacon and cabbage. Top with the remaining potatoes.
Cover with a sheet of buttered aluminum foil. Bake 40 minutes. Remove foil; sprinkle with chives. Cook until the potatoes are browned, 10-15 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes; cut into wedges. (To make ahead, cool completely; cover and refrigerate up to 1 day. Bring back to room temperature; reheat in 300-degree oven 20 minutes.)
Nutrition information: Per serving: 374 calories, 70% of calories from fat, 29 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 82 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 383 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
6 large Idaho potatoes, peeled
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
7 ounces Irish back bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup whipping cream
Freshly ground pepper
14 ounces Swiss cheese
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat; add potatoes. Cook until slightly tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain; cool. Cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook until soft but not browned, 4-5 minutes. Add bacon, garlic and thyme; cook, stirring often, until bacon is lightly browned (Irish bacon has little or no fat so it browns quickly), about 5 minutes. Stir in wine; cook 3 minutes; stir in cream. Season with pepper.
Cover bottom of a buttered 2-quart ovenproof casserole with half of the potatoes. Grate half of the cheese over the potatoes. Pour over half of the cream mixture. Add remaining potatoes; pour remaining cream mixture over the top. Cover with buttered foil. Bake 20 minutes; remove the foil. Slice remaining cheese; place on top of the casserole. Bake until mixture is bubbling and cheese is melted, 20 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. (To make ahead, cool completely; cover. Refrigerate up to 1 day. Bring back to room temperature; heat in 300-degree oven, 20 minutes).
Nutrition information: Per serving: 586 calories, 52% of calories from fat, 34 g fat, 21 g saturated fat, 111 mg cholesterol, 50 g carbohydrates, 21 g protein, 308 mg sodium, 4 g fiber