The convergence of St. Patrick’s Day – March 17 – and St. Joseph’s Day – March 19 -during the third week of March makes for interesting kitchen dynamics.
I am reminded of this every year when relatives and friends pepper me with questions about whether the culinary spotlight in our house will fall on Ireland’s patron or the foster father of Jesus whose feast is widely celebrated by those of Italian heritage.
Actually, with a mixed hertiage like ours, I make it a point to shine the spotlight on both.
But recent reflections on this culinary cunundrum got me to thinking that there had to be a way to bring Sts. Joseph and Patrick to the table at the same time. Actually, thoughts of this were sparked by memories of an Irish gift shop that used to be located on Arnold Avenue in Point Pleasant Beach.
The shop owner was of Italian heritage, her husband was Irish. “Gaelic & Garlic” was the phrase she coined in response and it soon appeared on many items in her store from clothing to kitchen towels and beyond to great reception.
The shop is gone now but a check of the Internet reveals variations of the phrase appearing on everything from adult clothing to baby bibs to pottery and jewelry! Somethin’ huh?
With that in mind, I approached the pantry late Tuesday night, rooting through cuboards and the fridge for ingredients with which to compose a “Gaelic ‘n Garlic” soup – to consume next week. As envisioned, the soup would not only honor the saints, it would fulfill the Lenten abstinence requirement as St. Joseph’s Day falls on a Friday.
What developed is a hearty brew, which, if left overnight in the refrigerator, settles into what my mom (a master soup maker) used to refer to as “stewp” a cross between soup and stew. Serve it up with chunks of bread and hunks of Irish and Italian cheese and a side salad, and it makes for a fine meal.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons of olive oil; 1 large sweet onion, finely chopped; 4 cloves mashed garlic; 1 large can of mushrooms, drained; 8 ounces of canned, chopped tomatoes with their juice; 3/4 cup pearl barley; 1-1/2 cup pasta (medium shells or elbows); two cups diced potatoes; 1/4 tsp. dried Italian parsley; 1/4 tsp. dried thyme; 5 cups canned vegetable broth; salt, pepper and grated cheese to taste.
Directions: In a large skillet, heat the oil over low and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are translucent and the garlic is very lightly browned. Stir in the tomatoes, barley, parsley, thyme, salt and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and cook for at least 35 minutes or until the barley plumps up.
Stir in the pasta and potatoes and cover and cook until tender – about 10 minutes. Serve with the grated cheese.
Expect the barley to literally drink up the liquid if you store it over night. You can thin it down by adding some tap or bottled water but the first folks who tested this recipe liked it when it hit that “stewp” consistency.