Like they say, everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. I believe in celebrating any and all holidays, especially if they involve special food, so even though neither my husband nor I have a drop of Irish blood, on March 17 we put on a Clancy Brothers CD and eat the classic meal – with or without guests.

This corned beef and cabbage is straightforward, although I do add a piquant horseradish sauce to liven things up a little.

Leavened with baking soda instead of yeast, Irish soda bread has an interesting history. Few people had ovens in rural 19th century Ireland, so when baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) was introduced in the 1840s, housewives realized they could bake risen loaves in the cast iron Dutch oven-like pots hanging over their turf fires.

Originally, soda bread was a simple concoction of Irish soft wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and the buttermilk which was a by-product of butter-making on the farm. Along the way, ingredients such as raisins or currants and caraway seed got added, although true Irish scoff at such fancying up.

Traditionally, a deep cross is cut into the top of the round loaf. Some say it’s “to let the devil out,” although bakers point out that the cross has the practical effect of allowing air and heat into the dense center of the dough, resulting in better rising and baking.

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE WITH HORSERADISH CREAM

The horseradish-spiked sour cream sauce, while not particularly traditional, provides a welcome counterpoint to this classic meat and vegetables mélange.

Serves 6 generously, with some leftovers

HORSERADISH CREAM:

1 cup sour cream, reduced-fat or regular

1/3 cup prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon coarse-grain mustard

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

BEEF AND VEGETABLES:

1 5- to 6-pound corned beef brisket or round

2 bay leaves

12 whole black peppercorns

2 whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds, optional

20 small red-skinned potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut in half if larger

10 large carrots, peeled and cut in 3- to 4-inch lengths

12 small white boiling onions, peeled (see Note)

1 medium green cabbage, cut in about 16 wedges without removing the entire core
Butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the horseradish cream, stir together sour cream, horseradish and mustard. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Return to room temperature and sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Place corned beef in a very large pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Skim off foam that rises to the surface for the first few minutes. Add bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves and optional mustard seeds. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 to 3 hours, until a fork inserted into the meat comes out easily.

Skim off and discard any excess fat from the kettle liquid. Add potatoes, carrots and onions and simmer, covered, until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. (See note.)

In a separate saucepan, cook cabbage wedges in boiling salted water to cover until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.
Lift meat out of liquid, carve crosswise into thin slices, and arrange in the center of a large platter. Arrange vegetables around the sides, or on a separate platter, dot with butter, and spoon a bit of the hot liquid over them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pass horseradish cream at the table.

NOTE:  Or use half a 1-pound bag of frozen pearl onions. If your kettle is not large enough to accommodate all the vegetables, simply cook them in separate saucepans of boiling salted water.

IRISH SODA BREAD

It may be heretical, but I love the addition of raisins and caraway to soda bread. After serving with the corned beef and cabbage, toast leftovers and eat for breakfast or with soup or salad for lunch or supper for the rest of the week.
Makes 1 loaf.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt 

4 tablespoons cold butter

1/4 cup raisins or dried currants

1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds

3/4 cup buttermilk, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons if necessary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut butter into about 10 chunks and use your fingers to rub it into the flour until the largest pieces are about the size of peas. Stir in raisins and caraway seed. Make a well in the center, pour in the 3/4 cup of buttermilk, and stir until a stiff dough forms, adding additional buttermilk if dough is too dry.

Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead lightly until dough comes together. Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet and shape into a slightly domed disk about 6 inches in diameter. Use a sharp knife or a razor blade to cut a large crisscross about 1/4-inch deep in the top of the disk to allow for even rising.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes or until crust is a deep golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack before cutting into slices. Serve warm or at room temperature, with plenty of sweet butter. (This bread is best served on the same day it is made but it can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.)


Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Dishing Up Maine” (Storey Publishing 2006) and “The New England Clam Shack Cookbook” (Storey 2008). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.