I’d like to take the opportunity to clear up an unfortunate misconception. Irish food. Let’s get into it.
Most people think Irish food is rather…blah. In fact, when I went over to Ireland a few years ago, I was warned by more than one person about how awful it would be. Those people had clearly never been to Ireland. Or, at least not outside of a pub in Dublin.
Irish food has the overwhelming reputation of being unimagined. I disagree, and in all of my travels (which, luckily have been extensive), Irish food tops the list. It beats out France, and Italy, German food expertly paired with my favorite Hefeweizen or Rieslings from the Black Forest and the best chipper in Londontown. Ireland wins it all. In fact, so strong was the food envy after watching my friend eat a particular lamb shank from the Stonechat Café in Killarney that I can still taste the bitterness left in my mouth, even as I ate a very delectable lamb stew of my own.
Usually considered bland and heavy, Irish cuisine generally revolve around meat and potatoes, and this foundation comes from the outsiders that staked their claim as far back as 500 BC, namely, the Celts, followed by the Anglo-Normans from France about five hundred years later, and the English in the 16th and 17th centuries. Because the livestock was usually reserved for the wealthy, the commoners subsisted on vegetation that thrived in damp, cool climates such as potatoes and barley.
It was this heavy reliance on potatoes by most of the population that led to the well-known Irish Potato Famine. Actually, famines. The first struck in 1739, but paled in comparison to the second more than one hundred years later from 1845-1849 which wiped out over 1,000,000 Irish.
However, over the years, Ireland’s cuisine has evolved past the uninspired. What they do, they do well, and the raw ingredients that Ireland provides are really fresh, usually local and therefore, even if a meal is simply prepared without the kind of spices and flair with which we are used to cooking, it’s still so packed with flavor that nothing is lacking. Also, don’t forget after all, that Ireland is an island, and the surrounding sea provides a wealth of fresh seafood. Finally, it’s not called the Emerald Isle for nothing. The rich pastureland means perfect grazing for all the livestock, and as such, Ireland has become world renowned for its dairy, specifically its artisan cheese trade.
As for St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, let’s just say it’s a bigger deal here in Chicago than it is there. On my trip to Dublin for the day back in 2007, I found myself watching U.S. marching bands in the parade standing next to someone who also graduated from my alma mater, Notre Dame. Not an Irishman in sight. And while I myself grew up eating corned beef and cabbage, I’ve learned through some Irish friends that they celebrate this low key day with boiled ham, cabbage and parsley sauce.
Speaking of Irish friends brings me to today’s recipe. Through the magic of the internet, I “met” Imen McDonnell when I discovered her blog, Farmette.
When I contacted her about a recipe for St. Patrick’s Day, she was generous enough to share her mother-in-law Peggy’s recipe for her Irish Apple Tart. Though not being an apple pie person herself, she was blown away by this dessert. Not being one either, I can’t disagree.
The one thing that makes this weird different- it’s baked on a plate. Yup, a plate. Like, a dinner plate. Not sure if mine were oven proof, I ended up buying one. If you attempt this plate method, do make sure yours can handle the heat. You wouldn’t want to end up crying over a cracked plate. Also, be careful since a plate does not have a lip. Your tart might just slide right off!
For the pastry
3.5/500g cups all purpose flour
Generous 2/3 cup/120g caster sugar
Scant 1 ½ cups/320g unsalted butter, cold
Pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the filling
2 ½ to 3 cups thinly sliced apples
½ cup caster sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
a squeeze of lemon
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
Heat oven to 350f/180c
Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and let sit for 30 minutes.
Put the flour, sugar and salt in a bow, cut the butter into pieces and work it into the flour with your fingertips. Now make a well in the middle of the flour and butter mixture and add the egg, egg yolks and vanilla extract. Stir with a fork to incorporate the flour evenly until you have to begin using your hand. Quickly bring the dry and wet ingredients together with your hands. On a floured surface, knead the dough for a few minutes then roll into ¼-1/2 inch thickness.
Place bottom pastry on plate. Fill with apples. Place top of pastry case over apple filling.
Make 3 slits on top.
Bake for about one hour or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling. Serve with whipped cream.
Chew on this: Along with the Celts, Anglo-Normans and French as mentioned above, there is an overwhelming Spanish influence in Galway. Apparently this was the home of the Spanish Armada when the conquistadors were gallivanting around the world, therefore leading them to combine all those fresh from the sea Irish ingredients with their own Spanish flair. Who knew?! Should you find yourself in Galway, you must go to Ard Bia. MUST.
Chrissy Barua lives in Lincoln Park and successfully lawyers by day despite an addiction to bad movies, cookies, and travel. She'll be bringing you monthly doses of delicious as she tries to track down the best grandma recipes she can find. (Follow her on her other cooking adventures at The Hungary Buddha Eats the World.)