You don’t have to be Irish to appreciate St. Patrick’s Day, especially when it comes to the food (green bagels excepted).
Like many people marking the day, I prefer to follow a more traditional path and rejoice in the green by piling colcannon on my plate, soft mashed potatoes speckled with bits of kale or cabbage, and suffused with loads of butter (the more the better).
Colcannon, which comes from the Gaelic term “cál ceannann” — most likely meaning white-headed cabbage — has been a staple in Ireland since at least the 18th century, when potatoes, a relative newcomer to the Irish diet brought over from the Americas, met cabbage and kale, leafy garden stalwarts that were already cornerstones of the cuisine.
At its most basic, colcannon consists of boiled potatoes and greens mashed together with milk and butter, sometimes with leeks, scallions or onions added for sweetness. But other root vegetables have, albeit rarely, made it into the pot. According to the diary of William Bulkely, on Halloween night 1735 in Dublin, he dined on mutton, he wrote, and “Coel Callen, which is cabbage boiled, potatoes and parsnips, all this mixed together.” But this seems to be an outlier in the colcannon canon.
Eating colcannon on Halloween, however, is traditional. In the past, fortunetelling charms were folded into the mash: a ring meant marriage; a coin predicted wealth.
For this recipe, I took the classic elements of potatoes, kale, alliums, milk and butter and added a few thyme sprigs for an herbal note and some Cheddar for depth, both of which occasionally pop up among variations.
But then, wanting to turn it into a meal, I took a few more liberties. After mashing everything together in the same skillet used to cook the kale (why dirty a bowl?), I cracked some eggs into divots in the mixture and baked it until the eggs were just set but still a little runny. Depending on your perspective, all this may disqualify the dish from being called colcannon. In which case, call it potato-kale casserole with Cheddar and eggs.
But you can still serve it on St. Patrick’s Day (or Halloween for that matter), maybe even with a little corned beef on the side — no green bagels necessary.