When I stop to think about some of my favorite foods from around the world, I realize that a lot of them are actually quite simple. Soups of almost any variety, rice dishes like jambalaya and paella, “pocket” food like empanadas, burritos and other wrapped food delights – all of these are remarkably simple foods made from regular, everyday ingredients that have been thrown together in different ways, usually out of sheer necessity. It’s the execution of these ideas that has made these dishes withstand the tests of time and many, many tastings.
I can’t help but marvel at the resourcefulness we humans seem to be equipped with, no matter how hard the situations we face. Really, a lot of our favorite “exotic” dishes are actually meals that were put together because there was nothing else on hand and you had to improvise with what was available. And the results have been phenomenal. From something as simple as cut up tortillas and eggs, we get chilaquiles, a fabulous Mexican breakfast dish that is now on brunch menus everywhere for upwards of $10 a plate. Some meat, potatoes, yucca and plantains in a highly flavorful broth becomes a delicious Colombian sancocho, while a good roux with some fresh shellfish and spicy stock turns into a wonderfully fragrant gumbo.
Across the pond and a couple notches down on the spice scale, but still quite delicious, we find another one of these dishes that was born from necessity and became a classic: colcannon, a traditional Irish dish made with potatoes and either cabbage or kale. As you can imagine, the cheap staples of potatoes and hearty greens made it easy to make a dish like this without breaking the bank, and with the difficulties Ireland has struggled with historically, simple dishes like these became true staples.
Nowadays, colcannon is enjoyed at any time, especially when kale when it comes into season. It is also served to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, which is what I’m doing today, of course. I’m just doing it Poor Girl style by throwing it back into a baked potato.
I’d been jonesin’ for a good baked potato lately, probably due to the spectacular spuds from the Co-op that had been flirting with me from Big Bowl. At just $0.89/lb for such organic perfection, I couldn’t help but stock up on them last week, but I hadn’t gotten around to actually enjoying one. When I remembered that St. Patty’s Day was right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to whip up some colcannon instead. But then I decided I could have the best of both worlds: a baked potato filled with rich, creamy colcannon, flecked with deep green kale and smoky bacon. In a word: delicious!
There are many reasons to love colcannon, especially in PGEW land. It tastes good (always a good start), it’s inexpensive, and almost impossibly easy to make. But my favorite thing about colcannon is that it’s really, really versatile. No kale? Use cabbage instead. Not a fan of bacon or ham, which are commonly used in colcannon recipes? Simply omit the tasty swine products and enjoy a meatless colcannon (it makes an excellent Meatless Monday side dish, btw). No dietary restrictions at all? Even better! Knock yourself out and toss in the kale, the cabbage, the bacon and the scallions, and plenty of butter for a rich, comforting side that the whole family will love.
Speaking of versatility… colcannon is usually made with boiled potatoes, and that’s a fine method to use if you want to go the easy route. But in my world, boiled potatoes are so… blah. They just sit there, all alone and forlorn in a pot of hot water, boiling away in boredom. Granted, that’s how most wonderful potato recipes start off, but I just feel bad for the poor things; surely there must be a more exciting way to be prepared! There are several, of course, but one of my favorite methods for cooking potatoes is to bake them. It requires little to no effort, and the end result of the texture is pure, velvety perfection.
This method works great for this particular recipe because you’re killing two birds with one stone: not only are your “shells” ready to go once the baking is over, but the base of the colcannon is ready, too. It takes some careful handling to remove the flesh from the potato without burning yourself, but I’ve done colcannon both ways and have to admit I prefer the baked version over the boiled. Baking just offers a better texture and flavor to the potatoes.
Other than that, there’s not much to note! Enjoy these as a hearty side for a St. Patty’s Day dinner, or for a little twist on the usual baked potato. It’s a delicious, easy-to-prepare recipe that’s sure to earn a spot on regular rotation for busy weeknight meals. Let’s check out the recipe!
Colcannon Stuffed Baked Potatoes (makes 4 servings; total cost per serving: $2)
4 large Russet potatoes
1 c nonfat milk
4 T (1/2 stick) butter
1 small bunch of kale, finely chopped
3-4 scallions, finely chopped
6 strips of cooked bacon, finely chopped
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Gently wash the potatoes well and pat dry with a paper towel. Rub the skin with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Pierce the potato several times with a fork, then bake for about 40 minutes or until the potato is cooked all the way through. (If you’re really pressed for time, you can also microwave your potatoes, but it’s not recommended.)
2. In the meantime, put a large pot of well-salted water to boil. When it comes to a full boil, toss in the chopped kale and blanch for no more than 30 seconds. Remove from water and place into a bowl with ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
3. When the potatoes are done, carefully remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for several minutes, until ready to handle. Carefully cut each potato down the middle and gently scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Add the milk and butter and mix until smooth. Next, add the chopped kale, scallions and bacon, and stir together well. Check for flavoring and adjust according to taste with salt & pepper.
4. Spoon generous amounts of colcannon into each baked potato shell. If you like, you can return them to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, until golden brown on top, or simply serve as is. Top with an extra pat of butter, sprinkle a bit more black pepper on top for good measure, and enjoy!