This is what happens when I’m spring-cleaning the pantry. The last storage vegetables from our CSA, garden and farmers market need to be used before the season starts again. I’m already feeling the pressure of a lawn full of dandelions, locally grown asparagus and a garden spewing sorrel, spinach and green garlic, even as the last stalwart cheese pumpkin staunchly occupies the sideboard. Really, after that Blue Hubbard saga! Time to change the décor and eat “that thang.” Not to mention cleaning out the refrigerator’s crisper drawer of the last cabbage, celeriac, beets and a few other lingering roots.
On a chilly weekend evening after a terrible flood at our farm (the river banks overflow at 7 feet and the river was at 16), I cooked my own storm. Green cabbage soup, Italian smothered green cabbage, Alsatian braised red cabbage and cooked dried beans bubbled away on the stove or in the oven for hours while I did household chores. In addition to Saturday night supper, we have the basis for about 6-12 meals depending on who’s at home.
Of the offerings, for the first supper, I chose the red cabbage, which was deeply redolent of red wine and red wine vinegar, mellowed with red onion and apple, and spiced with whole cloves and a tiny bit of star anise. I paired it with scalloped potatoes (a variety, whatever was left) and celeriac, braised in milk before heading to the oven with a little cream and cheese. Topped with a couple of thick bacon slices baked with brown sugar and pepper, this was comfort food at its best, with contrasting colors and flavors and complementary textures.
Braised Red Cabbage
1 small head of red cabbage, about 2 lbs, cored and thinly sliced (about 10 cups)
1 medium-large red onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 apples, halved, cored and thinly sliced
1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 tsp sugar
2 cups red wine
½ cup red wine vinegar
4 whole cloves
1-2 segments of star anise
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Prepare the cabbage, onion and apple. Heat a small amount of oil in a deep pot with a tight fitting lid or an acid-resistant (not cast iron or aluminum) Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook slowly until translucent, then add the remaining ingredients other than salt and pepper, and stir to coat. If you don’t want to fish the cloves and star anise out later or crunch into them while eating the cabbage, poke them into a larger piece of the onion, like the top or stem end you were about to throw out after you made the slices. It will easier to find them.
Bring the mixture to a simmer on top of the stove, then transfer to a 300 degree oven and cook for two hours, checking after the first to make sure the mixture’s not boiling, and if it looks bubbly, turn down the heat to 275 degrees for the final hour. Remove the spices (if you can find them). When ready to serve, season with salt and pepper to taste. The flavor improves if you serve it the second day.
Scalloped Potatoes and Celeriac
2 medium potatoes (white, russet, yellow or a combination)
1 small-medium bulb celeriac
1–1½ c milk
Optional: ¼ c heavy cream
Optional: A few pinches dried thyme or a few sprigs fresh thyme
Optional: ¼ -1½ c grated cheese such as cheddar
Optional: grated fresh nutmeg
Butter or oil for the baking pan
Peel and slice the potatoes into ¼-inch thick pieces, cutting them lengthwise into manageable pieces and place them into a medium saucepan. Peel and slice the celeriac into similar-sized pieces and add them to the potatoes, stirring to combine. Pour milk on top to come about ¾ up the side of the pan. Place on the stove over medium heat and bring the milk to a simmer, stirring from time to time. Add salt.
Add optional cream and thyme. Let sit for a few minutes while you heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a baking dish and arrange the potato and celeriac slices in it. Sprinkle with grated cheese and grated fresh nutmeg, if using. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until the vegetables are cooked through and the sauce is bubbling. Let the dish sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Baked Thick Bacon
½ – 1 thick sliced pieces of smoky dry-rubbed bacon per person
A few pinches of brown sugar
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Place the bacon on the foil and sprinkle with a little brown sugar. Bake until it starts to crisp, at least 5 minutes. Flip and continue to bake until crisp. Remove to a paper towel to drain.
Let the fat in the pan cool before scooping up the foil to discard.