Irish pancakes

Mashed potato pancakes. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / February 24, 2014)

My cookbook assortment rivals my husband's vinyl collection. Supersturdy shelving houses both obsessions. Fortunately, when something from his collection blasts on the turntable, I retreat to the kitchen with mine.

At last count, I have more than 10 cookbooks on Moroccan cooking, several on Indian, dozens on Italian fare and French pastry, nearly a hundred on American cooking and even one on Lebanese cuisine. So it comes as a surprise that I have nary a volume on traditional Irish cooking. A recent recipe search for Irish boxty, the tender potato pancake we so enjoyed in Dublin, proved fruitless.

A delicious serving of corned beef and sauerkraut-stuffed boxty at an Irish pub in Milwaukee reignited the search. I knew I wanted to make these tender, potato-laced pancakes at home for our St. Patrick's Day celebration.

Luckily, "The Cooking of the British Isles," a 1969 volume of Time Life's The Foods of the World Series, references the "poor house bread." Along with a description of Ireland's beloved potato recipes, the editors mention these traditional Irish pancakes, known as boxty. Their recipe uses grated raw potatoes and fries them in butter for crispy cakes. The Internet likewise offers several renditions made from raw and often mashed potatoes.

The Time Life recipe suggests serving the savory pancakes with crisp strips of bacon. I wanted to make a version suitable for our St. Patrick's Day dinner, so I added a little grated red onion to the batter. I also folded in some plain mashed russet potato to lighten the texture.

Batter in hand, you can vary the size of the pancakes to suit.

Larger pancakes, spread thinly in the pan, prove dinner worthy. Top one half of each cake with a filling, such as the creamy curried chicken and cabbage here. Then fold the other half of the pancake over the filling. A sprinkling of fresh herbs turn these humble breads into company fare.

For brunch, I like to serve stacks of 3-inch-diameter cakes topped with thinly sliced smoked salmon and sour cream dollops. Smaller, silver-dollar-size cakes (skip the onion in the batter) beautifully soak up pure maple syrup or a fruity compote.

Irish boxty are so versatile they're sure to be a standard in your repertoire all year long. Hopefully, someone will put an Irish tune on the stereo while you cook.

Irish boxty (potato pancakes)

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Makes: Sixteen 3-inch pancakes, or 8 larger pancakes, serving 4 to 6

Omit the onion if you plan to serve the boxty with maple syrup or fresh fruit. Use a 1/4-cup measure to make pancakes about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. For large pancakes that you can fill and fold, use 1/2 cup of batter and spread it thinly in the pan. If working in advance, re-crisp the pancakes in a hot skillet.

2 large (12 ounces each) Russet potatoes (total 1 1/2 pounds), scrubbed clean

¾ cup flour

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup skim milk or half-and-half (or a combination)

¼ of a medium red onion