Kiss Me, I'm Irish!
They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. My paternal grandmother was born Mary Frances O’Leary, which would make me one-quarter Irish. I was also born in South Boston, Massachusetts which would make me honorary Irish regardless of my O’Leary blood. Back in the day, Irish families dominated South Boston (known as “Southie”) and every other seat in my grade school classrooms held an O’Malley or O’Reilly, O’Brien or O’Shea, Fitzgerald, Fitzpatrick, Fitzgibbons or Doyle, McCarthy, MacDonald, Finnegan or Flynn. There was a Catholic church every couple of blocks and St. Patrick’s Day was the biggest party of the year. It’s been many moons since I’ve been in Southie and I’m not sure that the demographic still leans heavy towards the Irish, but there is a long-standing tradition that does endure…the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In truth, the parade and official city holiday honors “Evacuation Day”. On that March day in 1776, Continental troops scared the British Navy out of Boston Harbor by lining up cannons and large logs blackened to look like cannons on Dorchester Heights, the big hill at the top of my street. Being classy Bostonians, they didn’t claim that the Brits turned tail and ran, they politely said that they “evacuated”. What a great excuse for a party! The fact that this event coincided with the Feast of Saint Patrick must have been just the luck of the Irish.
In the Sixties, the parade route took the festivities along G Street and right past the front windows of our triple decker apartment building. The bird’s eye view from the second floor was even sweeter because this was the day that my mother took the plastic off the windows. In late fall, when cold winds blew in from the harbor, she would cover the tall windows with a large sheet of opaque plastic to keep out the drafts. Plenty of light would come in, but you could not clearly see out---unless little fingers managed to poke a peephole. Once discovered, the hole would be taped shut, the guilty party admonished and the view of the outside world once again blurred. On St. Patrick’s Day, about two hours before the parade began, the windows were uncovered and we would wait impatiently for the first fire trucks, signaling the start of the fun. We watched marching bands, clowns, Irish step dancers and floats, horses, pipers, politicians and beauty queens. There were twirlers and scout troops, sometimes a celebrity and lots and lots of Southie residents wearing green hats and sweaters and big buttons pinned to their coats that said “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”.
When we eventually saw the fleet of street sweepers bringing up the rear, we knew the parade was over and it was time to eat. Corned beef and cabbage is the very traditional holiday fare in Southie, but my mother took a different tack. She served up what is called a “New England Boiled Dinner” featuring a long simmered smoked pork picnic shoulder with white potatoes, carrots and cabbage wedges bobbing alongside in the aromatic broth. The cabbage was always my favorite part, with a schmear of spicy mustard once I was grown. The bonus to this delicious meal was that the broth, along with any leftover meat and veg, would be turned into a hearty split pea soup that I continue to crave at this time of year.
After we moved to the suburbs, we returned to Southie many times on St. Patrick’s Day. The parade also wound past my maternal grandmother’s house and once again we had a warm, comfy, indoor view. I will never forget the year that I raced outside just in time to shake hands with the incredibly handsome actor Robert Urich, (Spenser in “Spenser For Hire”) who was walking ahead of his courtesy car. Those twinkly eyes, that brilliant smile….someone snapped a picture. Was it me? Be still my heart! I can’t remember what (or even IF) I ate anything that day. I was in a total swoon! Typically, my grandmother would forgo both corned beef and cabbage and the New England boiled dinner in favor of stuffed cabbage rolls. As a cabbage lover, I always wished for more of the roll and less of the stuffing, so I devised my own version that amped up the cabbage and also took away the challenge of working with the boiled leaves. My DECONSTRUCTED STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS with AGRODOLCE (Sweet & Sour) TOMATO SAUCE is great any time of the year, but if you make it for St. Patrick’s Day, you might be blessed with the luck of the Irish. Erin Go Bragh!
DECONSTRUCTED STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS with AGRODOLCE (Sweet & Sour) TOMATO SAUCE
Serves 6 - 8
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground turkey, white or dark meat or a mix
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large head white cabbage, core removed and coarsely chopped (at least 8 cups)
3 carrots, shredded
1 14.5 oz. can diced (or crushed) tomatoes
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
FOR THE SAUCE:
2 15 oz. cans tomato puree
Juice of 2 whole lemons (about 1/3 to ½ cup)
Lemon zest (optional)
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375°
In a skillet, begin to cook the ground turkey in the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, breaking the meat into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon. When the turkey is about halfway cooked, add the onion and garlic and continue to sauté until turkey is no longer pink. (Onion and garlic do not have to be fully cooked) Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat.
While the turkey is cooking, make the AGRODOLCE SAUCE. Zest the lemons (optional) In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest (if using) and Worcestershire Sauce with the brown sugar, until sugar is dissolved. Add the tomato puree, mix thoroughly and add salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the DECONSTRUCTED STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS: In a 13x9 ovenproof casserole or similar dish, spoon a light coating of sauce on the bottom. Construct layers beginning with 1/3 of the cabbage, then half of the turkey, carrots and tomatoes. Add a generous ladle of sauce over all. Repeat the layers and finish with a top layer of cabbage and sauce. Cover casserole with foil or an ovenproof lid if available and bake in a 375° oven for 45 minutes to an hour. During baking, the cabbage will release moisture and add to the sauce. You may stir the casserole at the halfway point, or leave in layers until fully cooked. Sprinkle with the fresh chopped parsley and serve.
Note: You may wish to make additional sauce, or keep some out of the recipe to serve on the side.