What does an Italian girl bring to an Irish dinner party?
First, if you are lucky, you are invited to dinner hosted by Napa Valley food and wine writer Paul Franson, and he is graciously creating the main courses and dessert.
With his Irish roots, Paul created a plethora of plates that were definitely authentic and pleasantly surprising — no corned beef and cabbage in sight. Paul explains why in his accompanying article; I, for one, was really surprised.
Another surprise for me was how much I enjoyed a Black and Tan, half Guinness and half lager, when I don’t even like beer.
When I asked what I could bring to the table, Paul requested an appetizer. Being Italian, of course, I had to bring two.
Preferring to create something of my own instead of just searching the Internet for recipe ideas, I began to think Irish green and something that would pair as well with beer as it would with wine.
My first lightbulb moment was potatoes. What could be more Irish? This one was easy, as I took a page from Chef Jerry’s “Let’s Go Cook Italian” recipes and adapted his Potato Boats. I simply substituted a Dubliner Irish cheddar for the Taleggio cheese, added a drop of extra virgin olive oil to the potatoes to bump the flavor up a notch, and then garnished them with snips of green onion for a warm and creamy finger food.
Now for the “green.” Again, being Italian, when I think green, I think herbs, especially fresh basil. Wanting to keep it simple with another finger food, I decided on deviled eggs. They are great with beer.
I also used an Italian fallback here to change things up. Instead of traditional deviled eggs with green food coloring for the occasion, I mixed the egg yolk with pesto and a little sea salt — no mayonnaise involved. This resulted in a subtle, natural greenish color with unexpected flavors.
As for Paul’s recipes, I will tell you, I’d seriously consider making his colcannon (potatoes and kale) for a St. Paddy’s Day table. The same goes for his chocolate Guinness cake. It’s not overly sweet, and the hint of Guinness adds the perfect touch of richness and a luxurious texture. It’s simply a slice of happiness on your plate.
Not only did Paul do all the major preparations, including baking his own Irish soda bread, but he also entertained with fun facts and debunked myths like the story of St. Patrick running the snakes out of Ireland (pure legend, it seems, as there never were any snakes in Ireland to begin with).
Thanks for sharing your table, Paul, and here’s to the Irish: “Be they kings, or poets or farmers, they’re a people of great worth; they keep company with the angels, and bring a bit of heaven here to earth” (traditional Irish saying).
Whether Irish or Italian, mangia bene.
Irish Potato Boats
12 red potatoes
3/4 pound Dubliner white cheddar cheese
Extra virgin olive oil with a nice peppery finish
Salt to taste
Snips of green onion tops for garnish
Cut cheese into small cubes, one cube per potato.
Peel potatoes and slice a thin piece off the bottom of each so that the potato can stand on its own. Using the smaller end of a melon baller, scoop out a little well in the top of each potato, forming a “boat.”
Keep in cool, unsalted water until ready to cook. Bring water to boil and simmer 8 minutes or until just tender. Be careful not to overcook. Remove the potatoes and again place them in a bowl of cool, unsalted water.
When ready to complete, dry potatoes and put a drop of olive oil and salt to taste (remember, potatoes love salt) in the well of each boat. Fill each boat with a cheese cube. Just prior to serving, bake at 400 F until cheese is melted, about 4 minutes. Put under broiler just until cheese is golden.
Sprinkle with green onion tops and serve hot.
Green Deviled Eggs
Hard-boiled eggs, 1 per person
1/2 Tbsp. pesto (recipe follows) per egg or to taste
Salt to taste
Cut each egg in half lengthwise. Gently remove yolk from each half and place into mixing bowl. Mash yolks with fork until there are no large chunks. Add pesto. Mix well. Add salt to taste. Fill each egg half, generously, with yolk mixture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
3 small bunches fresh basil
1 clove minced garlic
Pinch of salt
1 heaping Tbsp. fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 heaping Tbsp. fresh grated Pecorino cheese
1 heaping Tbsp. pine nuts
6 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Wash and dry basil, removing leaves from stems. Combine leaves and remaining ingredients in food processor. Whip until creamy. If mixture is too thick, add small amount of hot water and whip.
Unused pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays. Remove when frozen and store cubes in zip-close bags in freezer until ready to use.