- He was born in the year 387 AD, in Britannia, then part of the Roman Empire. (He was enslaved and taken to Ireland when he was 16). So, Italians could argue that he has Roman roots.
- St. Patrick himself exclusively used the Latin name Patricius in his own writings and wrote and spoke Latin, the precursor of the Italian language. Some claim that he is responsible for introducing Latin into the Old Irish Language.
- He used the shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity. That makes him Roman Catholic, through and through.
- With the shamrock, St Patrick was utilizing the triskele symbol, much like the Trinacria, the three legged symbol of Sicily, which some scholars say came from Britannia. (Read about the Sicilian Trinacria HERE).
Ok, so maybe I'm stretching a bit here, but on St. Patrick's Day in our home, we go all out and become Irish. Sure, we might wear green (if we remember to), but the more obvious thing is the music and food. We've always loved traditional Irish music. In fact, as I write this, we are getting ready to go to a Chieftains concert tonight. Lisa and I have seen the Chieftains several times before, but this is our wee lad Lucas' first time. On St. Patrick's Day we play nothing but Irish and Celtic music. (Oh... that's right, both the Italians and the Irish play a type of bagpipe... another connection! Read our Bagpipe article HERE.)
The other Irish tradition we have is very Italian, I think. Eating. Each year I make a great Shepherd's Pie while Lisa makes an Irish Soda Bread. For drink, it's Harp lager--not wine. All that's missing is the Blarney Stone. A couple of years ago we made a mistake and invited some friends over to share in our Irish feast, but the evening left us without any leftovers! We're now very selfish about our Shepherd's Pie.... locking the doors, turning the music up high, watching the St. Patrick's Day Parade saved on our TIVO and filling our bellies with the Irish starchy equivalent of pasta--potatoes!
Here's my take on Shepherd's Pie...
Babbo Finzi's Shepherd's Pie
Use an larger size pie plate (we use Emile Henry's 11") or a casserole equivalent to a half size lasagna pan.
1 1/2 pounds Lean Ground beef
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup carrots, 1/2-inch dice
1 cup sliced celery, 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, sliced (not crushed) thinly
8 ounces diced tomatoes (Canned Italian style)
11 ounces canned corn (Green Giant Shoepeg is our favorite)
1 14 ounce can Italian flat beans (Del Monte Italian Cut, if canned)
1 cup beer (Harp Lager, etc.)
1 cup beef broth
2-3 bay leaves (remember to remove them before filling your pie!)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (40 cracks with a pepper mill)
1 tablespoon cornstarch (make a light paste by adding cold water to thicken, as needed)
3 pounds, peeled potatoes (Yukon Gold preferred) boil until tender
1 tablespoon margarine, Parkay Squeeze (substitute butter if cholesterol isn't an issue)
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (we use packaged Irish Dubliner)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add quartered, peeled potatoes. Boil until tender as you are preparing the rest of this recipe. A fork should offer no resistance. When done, drain potatoes well before using.
- Heat oil in large skillet and heat on low-medium flame. Place diced onion in the pan and sprinkle sugar over them (this helps with caramelizing the onions). Saute for 5 minutes or more until onions are a light walnut color. If onions are drying out, add a tablespoon of water and continue cooking.
- Next, add the carrots and celery to the onions and saute for another 10 minutes on low heat.
- Place beef and bay leaves in the pan along with the onion mixture and saute until browned, breaking up the meat with your spoon as you go. If the meat is crowded and is releasing lots of liquid (I've found that ground beef holds a lot of water), use a turkey baster to remove most of the liquid as you render down the beef. About halfway through this stage, sprinkle with nutmeg, salt and pepper and add the garlic.
- After the beef is lightly browned, turn up the heat to high and add the beer to de-glaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a flat wooden spoon to release the fond (the browned bits at the bottom).
- Next, turn the heat down to low and add the corn, green beans, and tomatoes and stir well.
- Add the broth, and simmer another 30 minutes. If it gets too dry add beer or broth or water as needed to leave enough liquid for a sauce at the end of cooking. (You can always thicken the sauce with a bit of corn starch thickener, but you can't add sauce where there is none at the end!)
- At the end of cooking, the veggies should be tender, not hard. If the resulting sauce (really a gravy) is watery, raise the temperature up until it boils and then thicken the sauce by adding the cornstarch paste. (A tablespoon or so of cornstarch with a tablespoon or two of water, then stirred makes a great thickener--but only works when the liquid is boiling).
- Remove from heat and let cool for 10-15 minutes. This helps to prevent the potatoes from getting mushy when putting the "pie" together.
- Prepare boiled potatoes (this can be done as you are cooking the stew filling). After they've cooled a bit, use a potato masher and mash down to a smooth consistency. The potatoes should be virtually lump free because to allow for piping out of a large pastry bag with a large decorative star tip. Add the butter and 1 tablespoon salt as you are mashing. Taste to see if more salt is needed. Keep the potatoes on the dry side to prevent them from getting mushy when baking.
- Preheat oven to 425.
Putting The Shepherd's Pie Together & Baking
- Remove the bay leaves from the filling, then place the stew filling into a 11-12" ceramic deep dish pie plate or Pyrex casserole. Make certain that your filling has cooled off before topping with the mashed potatoes. I tend to pipe the potatoes on top with a pastry bag and a large decorative tip. This gives lots of nooks and crannies that will crisp up at the end of baking under the broiler. You may also do this rustic style... spoon and distribute potatoes over the top of the plate, making sure to fill in along the edges. You can then use the spoon or a spatula to create a pattern of ridges on top. The more ridges, the more crunch when browned.
- Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top. For a richer look, you can place small pieces of butter here and there or spray with PAM butter spray at the end of baking, just before broiling.
- Place on the middle rack of a 425F oven and bake uncovered for 5 minutes. It's best to put a sheet pan on a rack under your pie in case yours bubbles over during baking.
- Next, turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake covered with a loose tent of foil (or the lid of a casserole) for an additional 30-40 minutes.
- Turn on the broiler for another 2-3 minutes to melt the cheese and brown the potatoes. Keep an eye on it--you just want the cheese to bubble and the potatoes to take on a nice crust... don't let it burn!
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool down a bit before serving. A fruity nut bread or Irish Soda bread goes great with this dish. A green salad is also a great side dish. We like to have a nice Irish lager, like Harp with it... Lucas like's having a glass of sparkling cider.
(Happy St. Patrick's Day!)