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Dig in to authentic Irish cuisine this St. Patrick's Day

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

St. Patrick's Day is next Friday. And yes, we know it's a bigger deal here than in Ireland. The parades, the parties, lots and lots of inappropriately green everything, beer, bagels - we get it. But maybe it's time to up our game. And could we not with the corned beef and cabbage already? Not that there's anything wrong with that, but what about something better?

For some inspiration on how to elevate our St. Patrick's Day offerings, we called Dervilla O’Flynn, the head chef at Ballymaloe House. That's a family-run hotel and restaurant in the countryside of southern Ireland. Ballymaloe has been serving homegrown, locally sourced food for decades, and they've become an internationally recognized destination for foodies. And Chef O'Flynn is with us now to hopefully tell us how we can get beyond the corned beef and cabbage. Chef, thank you so much for joining us.

DERVILLA O’FLYNN: Thank you very much for having me on.

MARTIN: So before we dive in, am I right that in America, we kind of take the St. Patrick's thing a bit far? Would that be correct?

O'FLYNN: Well, I haven't been at any parades in the States for St. Patrick's Day. So my memory of them in Dublin, where I'm from, where rainy days and days off from school, and maybe it's a day when you have a break from Lent, the Catholic tradition of abstaining, so you could eat chocolate on St. Patrick's Day for a day.

MARTIN: OK. Yeah, that sounds good. How would you characterize Irish food for people who aren't familiar? What would you say? Are there some key flavors, ingredients? What do you think as sort of characterizes it, if there's a way to describe that?

O'FLYNN: At Ballymaloe, we've been very lucky to have followed the ethos that Myrtle Allen, who opened Ballymaloe many years ago. We try and follow her ethos, which was always farm to fork before it was even fashionable. So she would rear pigs on her farm, which we do now. And we would serve meat and fish from the local area. So we have a good tradition of free-range pork which turns into lovely bacon, which would be cooked on St. Patrick's Day in many households. Or we would have some lovely Irish stew which is made from lamb. And when that's made well, it is better than anything. So I think it's about using your ingredients and cooking them well and giving them a bit of love. So if you're cooking cabbage, to either stir fry it or to cook it in a little bit of water, a little bit of butter, salt and pepper and just cook it until it's al dente, rather than stewing it for hours in boiling water.

MARTIN: Until it turns - grey.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: How did you get interested in cooking? Do you mind if I ask? How did you get interested in cooking? And how did you become acquainted with this approach of this locally sourced, you know, farm-to-table way?

O'FLYNN: Oh, well, I suppose I was - I'm from Dublin. And I did home economics in school. And I guess my teacher gave me a bit of encouragement. And also, I loved to bake, rather than do my homework. So my dream was to go to Ballymaloe. Darina Allen, who started the cookery school, was beginning to become a celebrity on Irish television, and I heard about it and came for an interview to work there one summer. And I stayed. And I did the cookery course there. There's a fabulous 12-week cookery course that Darina hosts three times a year on her hundred-acre organic farm. Then I worked in the kitchen and went away and did various things and came back five years ago to become the head chef. So it's been just a bit of a passion from the beginning.

MARTIN: So when you travel - and I know, you know, you do, do you feel like you're facing headwinds around, like, Irish cuisine, the idea that it's only, you know, bangers and mash and shepherd pie and corned beef? Do you feel like you have some sort of stereotypes to overcome when it comes to the quality of the food that is available?

O'FLYNN: A little bit, I suppose. It's getting a lot better. I think we are producing a lot of brilliant chefs in Ireland at the moment. So I think we're up there with some of the British chefs or, you know, more locally, British chefs or Dutch. And we've had a bit of connection with the Dutch because we're involved in a euro chef association. So we would be talking to various chefs around Europe as well. So I think we are getting our say on the map.

MARTIN: So if people wanted to - if they're not lucky enough to get to Ballymaloe for St. Patrick's Day, and they would like to try something at home, what would you recommend?

O'FLYNN: I would suggest maybe potato and leek soup, because that would be a very simple thing. And that can be made ahead. The Irish stew, I think, is fantastic because that is even better the next day. If you make it the day before, it's the nicest thing. So the important thing is to order thick chops. So they need to be, you know, a good half an inch or an inch, and to cook it slowly in the bottom of the oven.

MARTIN: So is this lamb or beef that we're going with here?

O'FLYNN: This is lamb.

MARTIN: This is lamb in the Irish stew. OK.

O'FLYNN: Yeah.

MARTIN: All right. I'm caught up now. So we get our chops. They have to be about an inch thick.

O'FLYNN: We get our chops. And we kind of layer them in the pan with carrots, some onions or shallots, some thyme leaf, chicken stock. And you cook that slowly. And then about a half an hour before they're ready, or even if you were to make that the day before you want it, the next day, you would peel and evenly cut your potatoes about the size of a mandarin orange or smaller. And steam them on top of your stew with a lid on. And give them a half an hour. And then they have cooked in the lovely juices of the stew. And that's really, really gorgeous.

MARTIN: That sounds great. What about for our vegetarian friends? What do we have for them?

O'FLYNN: We would do a little cake with maybe some - I know they're not Irish so much, but maybe some lentils or cannellini beans and some kale, which we grow a lot of now. Do you eat a lot of kale?

MARTIN: Please.

O'FLYNN: Is it as popular? It's very popular here.

MARTIN: Excuse me. Chef, I am Black, first of all. I'm an African American. So we invented kale.

O'FLYNN: Did you?

MARTIN: OK. Well, we kind of did. I didn't really, you know, not really, but kind of.

O'FLYNN: I should know.

MARTIN: Greens. Greens.

O'FLYNN: We all love our kale, don't we?

MARTIN: Greens, collard greens, all greens, greens.

O'FLYNN: All greens.

MARTIN: We do our greens, greens, turnip greens. Even the carrot tops we cook sometimes.

O'FLYNN: Cavolo nero and all those lovely kales. Exactly. So a little lentil or cannellini bean cake with some kale through it, which I love. And so you would cook your lentils or cannellini beans or whatever beans you like and bind them together with a little husk called psyllium husk.

MARTIN: Interesting.

O'FLYNN: Which is - you can use instead of egg, which is super. It's a binder.

MARTIN: OK.

O'FLYNN: And then fry it in the pan in a little cake.

MARTIN: Wow.

O'FLYNN: And then you can make a lovely little mushroom cream either if you wanted to keep it vegan with coconut cream or with just vegetarian stock.

MARTIN: That sounds amazing.

O'FLYNN: Yeah.

MARTIN: That was Dervilla O'Flynn. She's the head chef at Ballymaloe House. And we're talking about how to elevate our St. Patrick's Day menu. Chef O'Flynn, thank you so much for talking with us.

O'FLYNN: Thank you, Michel. Thank you for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.