I love well chosen words, committed to paper, bound in paper or cloth.
I love the scent a recently-printed book releases as I flick through it.
I love the light texture of the paper fibres on my fingertips as turn each page.
Even though my collection numbers in the four-digits (and that's after I lost a few hundred because of a tragic-to-me flood two Christmases ago), like the men I who keep my company, I am rather choosey about the ones I bring home.
I peruse bookshelves, pick up a title and skim its pages. More often than not, it's reshelved. At most I'll spend 30 seconds with a book--like resumés, fundraising asks and online dating profiles, that's all the time an author has to wow me into adding their title to my basket.
The same goes for cookbooks. I read them in the same way as I do novels. Actually, it's more than that. Not only do these writers need to wow me with their food, but they also have to understand the music of language--of food language--before I'll consider adding them to my cookery book collection. They need to weave tales and transport me to their kitchens and times as well as support me on my journey there. Few pass the test.
Which is why when I found myself curled up in one of those wooden armchairs, in one of those ubiquitous big box bookstores, with a cookbook for more than 20 minutes, I knew I had a gem in my hands. When I realised I had a Cheshire Cat-like grin plastered to my face, I knew Colman Andrews' The Country Cooking of Ireland would come home with me.
I spent most of this weekend with the book--reading about Ireland's seafood and cheeses, potatoes and game. I've marked more recipes to try than I have in a very long time. It's not pretentious. It doesn't break down ingredients into molecules, nor does it try an elevate food to an esoteric level. It celebrates food. It celebrates the land and waters. It celebrates the Irish.
What more do I want from a cookery book?
I've marked a number of recipes to try. Some, because the ingredients sound wonderful (filet mignon and mushrooms in whiskey sauce). Others because I've heard of, but never tasted them (colcannon). And still others because their names just make me smile (parapetetic pudding, anyone?).
Panhaggery definitely falls into the last of these categories. And the first. And the second.
I took Colman Andrews' original recipe as a guide, adjusting the amounts of fat and potatoes, adding in some sage and garlic. It's easy satisfying and adaptable. I can see myself making this again, but with sweet potatoes and bleu cheese, or playing with charcuterie.
But really, more importantly, this dish made me smile.
adapted from The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews
Serves 6-8 as a side dish
1 Tbsp butter, plus more if needed
100g (3.5 oz) streaky bacon, chopped (four rashers)
1 medium onion, slivered into lunettes
1 garlic clove, minced
0.25-0.5 tsp dried sage
225-450g (0.5 lb-1lb) Yukon Gold potatoes (or any boiling potato), (see note)
175g (1.75c) grated cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 180C/375F.
In a 20cm (8") cast iron frypan fry the chopped bacon in the butter until crisp. Remove the bacon pieces to a kitchen toweling-lined bowl.
Pour off the fat, leaving about a tablespoon in the pan (do not discard fat). Add the onions and garlic. Stir until the onions wilt and begin to caramelise. Mix in a couple of pinches of pepper and the sage. Remove from the pan and mix with the crisped bacon.
Remove the pan from the heat and brush the bottom and sides with oil (adding more from the poured-off reserve, if needed).
With one third of the potatoes, shingle the slices over the bottom of the pan, leaving none of the metal exposed. Layer half the onion mixture overtop the onions and then layer a third of the cheese overtop the onions. Sprinkle with pepper.
Layer half the remaining potatoes on top, repeat as above with the rest of the onions and half the cheese and pepper. Top with remaining potatoes. Dribble the remaining fat over the potatoes, dotting with butter, if necessary.
Pop into the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes or until an inserted knife easily pierces each potato layer.
Turn on the broiler. Sprinkle with the last of the cheese and broil for 1-2 minutes or until the cheese has melted thoroughly.
Note: The quantity of potato depends upon how thinly you slice them and how large the potatoes are. Start with slicing half the potatoes (225g/0.5lb) and judge after the first layer if you need to slice any additional potatoes.
I'm a quill for hire!
I'm a quill for hire!