Braising Cabbage, I mean, Brazen Dog
I like to cook. That news might come as a shock to my husband, since given my schedule, I don’t do much. When I do enter the kitchen, my goal is to cook seasonally and to eat locally produced food. The seasonal part is generally a success. The local part is on a best-efforts basis.
Today’s doings involved braising cabbage. In late December in Poland, if you lean toward the vegetarian side of life, your menu choices narrow, but potatoes, leeks, onions, celery root, parsnips, carrots and cabbage are plentiful.
Yesterday when we patrolled the produce section, I saw that there wasn’t a head of cauliflower to be found. Surprised and sad that I had missed that boat, I set my sights on the kapusta (cabbage.) With Alice Waters at my side, I knew it wouldn’t be hard to make something simple and tasty.
My sister-in-law Kathy, bestower of the best gifts, gave me a copy of Water’s book The Art of Simple Food years ago, but it wasn’t until I moved to Poland and focused my culinary efforts along Slow Food lines, did the book become my food bible.
About 20 years ago, Joanne Behr–who along with Waters and myself is a food-loving Jersey girl–taught me by example that a real cook never proves her stuff until she shows how she can improvise. Prior to spending time in Joanne’s kitchen, I was surrounded by strict recipe-followers, which is all well and good until you find yourself missing most of the ingredients to your braised cabbage recipe.
I had cabbage, salt, pepper and olive oil. I had bay leaves. What I didn’t have was the celery, carrot, fresh thyme and white wine that Waters recommended. The great thing about Waters, of course, is that she understands the need for flexibility when it comes to ingredients. She had a variation that skipped the other root vegetables. I opted for that version and substituted beer for the white wine and dried thyme and garlic for the fresh. Because I trust Waters implicitly, I skipped my usual avoidance of butter and added a generous pat to the finished product.
Despite my initial misgivings, the final dish tasted buttery and savory. The test was going to be what my husband thought. He’s not much on minimalist vegetarian cuisine. Plus, I was serving cabbage to a Pole. When he walked in with the Christmas tree this afternoon, I had him taste it. Success.
About a half hour later, I moved the dish, which I had made for a party, to the counter, so that my husband could serve French toast. The dog knows better than to steal food when we are around. Well, at least we thought she did.
“Jersey,” shouted my husband, walking into the unattended kitchen.
“Look what she did,” he said, pointing to the counter.
Within seconds, she had cleaned out three quarters of the dish.
Nmian, nmian, nmiam.
Braised Cabbage (Adapted from Alice Waters)
1 Savoy cabbage, quartered, cored and thickly sliced
freshly ground sea salt
freshly ground pepper
a bottle of beer
2 bay leaves
cup of warm water
Butter to taste
Discard the outside leaves before preparing the cabbage and seasoning with salt and pepper. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil and brown the seasoned cabbage. Brown it until it begins to get soft. Add the beer, bay leaf, thyme and garlic. Simmer covered until the beer gets absorbed. Add water and cook until soft. Flavor with butter.
Warning: Do not leave within counter-surfing reach of a hungry Portuguese water dog.
I can’t believe the @#$% ate our party food. Note to our dinner party hosts: We made a second batch. Promise.
What are your cabbage, seasonal cooking or counter-surfing dog stories?