Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy January!

Hello everyone, and happy January!

Though it's currently the beginning of a new semester here, with all the frenetic and expansive energy attending the return to academia, it seems to me that the food world holds its own temporal court, keeping us in something like a stasis of old apples, sweet carrots, potatoes and cabbage. I still can't shake the sense that January is so very much locked between November and March, in the culinary doldrums of sister winter. There is no freedom in a root vegetable, if you catch my drift. Its flavor-fullness comes through a sense of warmth, comfort, perhaps even staidness--but at the moment, I'm ready for all that is solid to melt into air (wink). I'm ready for the giddiness of spring, mainly for fresh rhubarb and salads--oh, salads!--that you feel are necessary rather than salutary, ones you don't even have to think about, the components just jump right into your bowl.

Now don't get me wrong, I happen to like winter produce, especially when it comes in your farm share:

It's true: everything does taste better when from a CSA share. Alice and I are splitting a half-vegetarian share from Keystone Farm, which is pretty much perfect. We also get eggs, granola and cheese every week, which is wonderful! West Phillians, if you're thinking about doing CSA, you should definitely check out this option. Plus they give you a print-out about your weekly share, detailing what type of produce you've gotten as well as recipes to try featuring--you guessed it--the inexorable march of apples, onions, carrots, and potatoes. I'll post one ASAITO (As Soon As I've Tried One.) But for now I've been turning to all of Molly's really great braised vegetable recipes, the ones that make cabbages really lush and lovely, an unforgettable symphony of tenderness and savoriness. I happen to really like braising with its mixture of simplicity and time; it's perfect for the winter when it's harder to care about you food, and yet you still want your food to care about you in complex, interesting, layered ways. Roasting also gets me there, but somehow it's not as exciting (at least right now, at least to me.)

Here's a great recipe for braised red cabbage, a sweet-and-sour take on the theme that really pops. For a winter vegetable, it's so flavorful and bright, almost in a summery way. The first time I made it I ate almost all of it. Dolefully scraping the last bits of it out of the container, I honestly considered making it again that night--and I'm telling you people, that was no small amount of cabbage. Trust me. You're going to like it.

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
From the Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook (I know. But it was only 8 bucks at Marshalls and the recipes are really quite good. Its holiday spirit got me through paper-writing.)

1 small head red cabbage (about 2 pounds)
2 T vegetable oil
7 T red-wine vinegar
3 T honey
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch allspice
salt and pepper to taste
1 Granny Smith apple

1. Halve cabbage lengthwise; remove core, and slice leaves as thinly as possible.
2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add cabbage and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar, honey, cinnamon and allspice. Season with salt and pepper. Add 3 T water, and continue cooking until cabbage is almost soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Add more water as needed if pan looks dry. (NOTE: I usually just cook it for one hour before adding the apple. Life is short. More to the point, I am impatient.)
3. Halve apple lengthwise, remove core, and slice apple into very thin wedges. Add to cabbage, and continue cooking until cabbage is soft and almost dry, about 20 minutes more. Serve warm. (NOTE: Also strangely good cold, straight out of the fridge!)

ps: We got a green cabbage in our last CSA share! It was so beautiful; when I sliced into it, it looked just like a giant brussels sprout.