Colcannon is an excellent recipe for using up leftover mashed potatoes. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Served alongside your St. Patrick’s Day corned beef, or as a stand-alone vegetable dish, an ancient Irish dish called colcannon works as a handy and delicious way to fill up hungry people.

Merely a combination of chopped cabbage and mashed potatoes, you can gild this particular lily with bacon, onion, butter, cream, or use kale or some other green vegetable instead. It’ll taste as good as your mashed potatoes. As a bonus, there are stories you can tell that go along with it.

For instance, it was customarily eaten on Halloween. Sometimes tokens were buried in it that would predict an eater’s future: a coin for wealth or a scrap of rag for poverty. The name, one claim makes, is that “col” refers to the cole family — cabbage, kales, etc., found in the dish and “cannon” comes from the use of a cannonball to pound the greens into submission, scarcely believable because there are many easier ways to do the job than to keep the old family cannonball hand near the fireplace or stove. Really, it would be the potatoes that needed pounding anyway.

The dish has been around since the potato found its way from the New World to Ireland. One reference to it comes from 1735, but some smart Irish cook no doubt concocted it well before that.

You can concoct it anytime you have leftover mashed potatoes, but it’s also a nice nod on St. Patrick’s Day. If there are kale-resistant types in your family, you can chop it up very finely and bury it in this dish. Otherwise, just good old cabbage serves.

Whenever I make colcannon, I jazz it up with onion sauteed in bacon fat, followed by the shredded or chopped cabbage added to the fry pan to soften up a bit before I add the potatoes. The potatoes can be as rich or spare as you wish. Add milk, cream, or sour cream, and butter.

Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the bacon pieces over the top if you don’t snack on them before you serve it.

Some colcannon recipes suggest cheese on top. Maybe if I didn’t have meat to serve with it, I might consider cheese. In which case, made with no bacon, colcannon could be a main dish in a vegetarian meal. I’m willing to guess that there may have been many an Irish family in hard times that ate colcannon alone for their meal. It’s filling and delicious, and reasonably wholesome.

I used roughly equal quantities of potato and raw cabbage. You can use more or less to taste. I figure on one potato per person I am serving, plus one strip of thick cut bacon and about a cup of chopped cabbage. I cooked for three and used a medium onion.

Make it for St. Paddy; have it at Halloween; then how about the day after Thanksgiving with all those leftover mashed potatoes?

Easy Colcannon for Two

2 servings

2 strips of bacon, fried

2 cups of coarsely chopped cabbage

1 small onion, chopped

2 medium potatoes, boiled, mashed, seasoned

In a skillet, fry the bacon, drain it, and break into pieces, set aside.

Put the cabbage and onion in the skillet and cook, turning them, until they are softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the mashed potatoes and mix them well with the cooked cabbage, and heat them through.

Sample and add salt and pepper to taste, or enrich with butter, cream, or milk.

If you wish, brown them on one side, then flip to brown on the other.

Serve with the bacon pieces sprinkled on top. Alternatively, stir the bacon into the colcannon.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...