Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a fresh look at Irish food

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a fresh look at Irish food
Our cookbook of the week is the award-winning The Currabinny Cookbook by James Kavanagh and William Murray. To try a recipe from the book, check out: seeded dillisk loaf , very green asparagus soup , and .

“In Ireland, we’re good for Guinness and butter. I don’t know what that says about us but it’s what people love,” James Kavanagh says with a laugh. To say Irish butter is special is an understatement. Almost golden in colour, rich and sweet, it makes most other butters seem pallid and flavourless in comparison. Irish cows benefit from a mild year-round climate, and spend their time grazing on the republic’s defining pastoral feature: lush, rolling, viridescent fields.

In their award-winning debut, The Currabinny Cookbook (Penguin Ireland, 2018), Kavanagh and his partner William Murray, a chef who trained at the acclaimed Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, highlight a modern take on traditional ingredients. Butter, naturally, appears throughout the book – “We strongly believe in butter” – as the basis of many of their dishes and in a section devoted to flavoured versions such as garlic, lemon and parsley.

“This recipe reinvents the traditional bacon and cabbage dinner,” James Kavanagh and William Murray write of their fried cabbage and ham sandwich. Brid O Donovan

The couple – who host dining pop-ups and sell their fare at farmers’ markets – are part of a vibrant culinary scene redefining Irish food. With exceptional chefs and producers transforming the country’s menus and larders, it’s time to let go of any lingering misconceptions involving over-boiled dinners, and potatoes as the be-all and end-all of the cuisine.

“Irish food gets a bad rap … What’s amazing about food in Ireland — what we have to recapture and why there’s such a renaissance happening now — is because of our climate. The ingredients we grow and produce here are so good,” says Murray. “It’s not even about looking back on how they cooked something a hundred years ago. It’s more about looking at the ingredients, the provenance and the land, and what it can produce.”

Butter is but one example. Throughout the book, Kavanagh and Murray feature Irish ingredients, from smoked mackerel and stone-ground Macroom Oatmeal to St Tola goat’s cheese and notably, seaweed. While potatoes are undeniably associated with the Emerald Isle, there’s a compelling case for seaweed to steal the culinary spotlight. “Seaweed could be as ordinary an ingredient in the Irish kitchen as it is in the Japanese,” Kavanagh and Murray write.

The Irish have been eating seaweed for at least 900 years (in contrast, potatoes didn’t arrive in Ireland until the late 16th century) and it’s long been harvested to fertilize fields. During the Great Famine of the mid-1800s, people relied on it for survival but today, more and more are turning to the abundant and sustainable product for its health benefits, versatility and intense savouriness.

The Currabinny Cookbook was named Cookbook of the Year by the Irish Book Awards. Penguin Ireland

“It has so much potential,” says Kavanagh. In The Currabinny Cookbook, they use seaweed and seagreens in flavoured butters, breads, fish dishes, pesto and hummus. “We’ve tried to Irish-ize and contemporize recipes we have in the book by adding interesting things like dillisk (a.k.a. dulse) seaweed to an Irish soda bread, which adds a really nice, salty, lovely texture to it,” he adds.

They also reimagined the traditional Irish pairing of bacon and cabbage, offering a penne pasta with ham, cabbage, wild garlic pesto and pickled walnut, and a fried cabbage and ham sandwich. “We used to absolutely boil to death all our vegetables,” says Murray. “Cabbage is such an Irish thing and we used to boil it but if you shred it and fry it in a frying pan with loads of butter, it’s just the most wonderful thing.”
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