I love the homey comfort of pub food, especially at this time of year, and since so many pubs have an Irish bent, it seems totally appropriate to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a couple of quintessentially Irish dishes. (Not that I’m ignoring corned beef and cabbage, but I’ve done variations on that theme here for the past couple of years.)

Mussels, which grow plentifully along Irish shores, make perfect pub food – casual, eat-with-your-hands fare – and this version with leeks and cream translates well to the home cook. Shepherd’s pie – savory meat and gravy topped with egg-enriched mashed potatoes – is traditionally made with lamb, but I’ve also given you a beef version.

MUSSELS WITH LEEKS AND CREAM

Servings: 4

All you need to add is a tomato salad and lots of good country bread to sop up every last drop of winey creamy sauce.

2 tablespoons butter

2 large or 3 small leeks, thoroughly rinsed (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 pounds mussels, preferably cultivated (farm-raised)

1 cup dry white wine

1 bay leaf, broken in half

2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

In a large, deep skillet or saucepan, melt butter. Add leeks and cook over medium-low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Rinse the mussels and, if they are wild, scrub and pull off beards. In a large pot, combine mussels, wine and bay leaf. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and steam until the shells open, 4 to 10 minutes, depending on their size. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to a bowl, discarding any that do not open.

Pour cooking liquid into a glass measure and let settle for a few minutes. Carefully pour liquid into the skillet with the leeks, leaving behind any sediment at the bottom. Add cream, bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat, uncovered, until liquid reduces by about one-third, 5 to 8 minutes. (Can be made several hours ahead to this point. Cover mussels and broth and refrigerate separately. Bring broth to a simmer before proceeding.)

Return mussels in their shells to the cream mixture and stir in the tarragon and parsley. Reheat gently until heated through, 2 to 4 minutes. Season with freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. Salt may not be needed, because the broth and mussels may be quite salty. Divide mussels among four large, shallow soup dishes, ladle broth over and serve.

IRISH SHEPHERD’S PIE

Buttered peas and carrots, some good brown bread and a glass of stout are traditional accompaniments.

Servings: 4

POTATO TOPPING

2 pounds russet or all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

3/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons butter

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

SAVORY LAMB FILLING

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/4 pounds lean ground lamb

1 large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons crumbled dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 1/2 tablespoons flour

11/2 cups beef broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Paprika for dusting

For potato topping, cook potatoes in salted water to cover until tender when pierced with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, return to the saucepan, and place pot over low heat for about 1 minute until thoroughly dry. Add milk and butter, and whip potatoes with a potato masher or hand-held electric beater until fluffy and smooth. Whisk egg in a small bowl.

Whisk in about 1/2 cup hot potatoes to temper the egg. Scrape egg mixture into potatoes and beat well. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. (Substitute about 3 cups of leftover mashed potatoes if you happen to have them on hand.)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the lamb, onion and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring to break up clumps, until the meat loses its pink color, about 10 minutes. Spoon off and discard any excess fat. Stir in rosemary, thyme and nutmeg. Sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Gradually stir in the broth and simmer, uncovered, until gravy is lightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish and let cool for 10 minutes.

Make dollops of mashed potatoes close together on top of the meat mixture, smooth with a spatula, and use a fork to make peaks. (The recipe can be made a few hours ahead and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before baking.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Scatter cheese over potatoes and sprinkle with paprika. Bake uncovered in preheated oven until stew is heated through and bubbly and potatoes are golden brown on top, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly before serving from the baking dish.

Ground beef variation: Use ground beef, preferably 85 percent lean. Omit rosemary and nutmeg and season with 2 teaspoons of crumbled dried thyme.

 

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.