St. Patrick's Day

Edible Q&A: Clodagh McKenna Reinvents Your St. Patrick's Day Menu

By Dina El Nabli | March 12, 2015
Clodagh McKenna shows us how to make a modern Irish dinner
Photo by Tara Fisher

If you’re looking for a fresh take on classic Irish fare like soda bread or potato dumplings this St. Patrick’s Day, chef and author Clodagh McKenna offers plenty of inspiration in her new cookbook, Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen.

In the book, she transforms stale leftover soda bread into soda bread ice cream with Bailey’s Irish cream liqueur. Potato dumplings are reinvigorated with a spicy cashel blue sauce. A rich Guinness cake is updated by using a locally-brewed stout. And a signature Irish breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs is given new life as a tortilla.

The modernized Irish recipes throughout the book are a testament to how much Irish cooking has evolved over the past decade. As the number of farmer’s markets has grown in Ireland, so has the emphasis on cooking with local, fresh and in-season ingredients. “The increasing number of farmers’ markets around the country have not only opened another gate for buying fresh, local ingredients, but have also encouraged direct communication between the cook and the fisherman, farmer and producer,” she says.

We caught up with McKenna right after the release of the book to ask about her must-make dishes for St. Patrick’s Day, how she plans to decorate her table for the holiday and more. 

When people think of St. Patrick’s Day, they think of colcannon and Irish soda bread. What atypical dishes do you like to make for the holiday?
I love the traditional dishes at this time of the year, but I add a fresh twist in my book, like my colcannon soup with parsley pesto or my soda bread and Baileys ice cream

What’s a must-make dish on St. Patrick’s Day for you?
My lamb stew, as I have grown up eating this every St. Patrick’s Day. I add pearl barley (similar to risotto rice) and fresh thyme to mine. It’s real Irish soul food.  
What do you want people to know about modern Irish cooking? 
The modern Irish kitchen is stocked with local and seasonal produce and the flavors are clean, fresh and exciting. It’s evolved in that we now embrace our updated traditional recipes. 
The recipes in your cookbook are also influenced by the time you spent in Italy, France and elsewhere. What's your favorite reinvented Irish dish?
My wild nettle gnocchi with cashel blue sauce
Some traditional Irish recipes remain unchanged. Do you have a favorite classic Irish recipe? 
Yes my Irish tea brack. I grew up having slices of it toasted with butter and jam smeared on top. This ritual has not changed! 
What food reminds you of your childhood and how has it influenced your cooking?
There are a few but this is the biggest: My mum and sisters baking rock buns on a Saturday. It was like a sensory siren in the house, luring me and my brother from our beds.

St. Patrick's Day table
Clodagh likes to extend the green theme of St. Patrick's Day to the table by creating a beautifully scented herb table runner. Photo by Tara Fisher

You love tablescaping as much as you love cooking. What inspires your tablescapes? What will your table look like for St. Patrick's Day?
The seasons are what inspire my tablescapes.  I like to use flowers, fruits and vegetables that are in season to decorate my table and also foraged shells or branches from walks. I will dress my St. Patrick’s Day table with Irish linen, a mix of greys and whites, and pots of green herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage) placed along the center of the table for that rustic Irish natural effect. 

Between running restaurants, cookbooks and your TV shows, when do you set aside time to experiment in the kitchen? What does a day in the test kitchen look like for you?
Testing recipes is part of my everyday working life. I am constantly writing down notes and talking pictures of food that inspires me, and then I will build the dish in my restaurant kitchen, and the following week it will be a special (if it’s good) on my menu.