I’ll admit that I don’t have visions of red onions, apples and cranberries dancing in my head. But I do tend to have fantasies of having a much simpler approach to food over the holidays than fancy imports and complicated courses. Take cabbage, for example. While I can hardly say, “ma petit chou” to the sturdy, dense heads of purple cabbage I find at the market these days, their color alone can make a meal feel much more festive. Eating locally and seasonally can be especially challenging during the holidays but it doesn’t have to be.
I”m using an excellent cookbook, Roast Figs Sugar Snow by Diana Henry as my holiday cooking guide. It was the book’s byline, winter food to warm the soul, that really got to me. Henry grew up in Northern Ireland and while writing this book, traveled to several cold weather countries in search of recipes for seasonal winter food. Rather than just enduring cold weather flavors until spring, she’s fallen in love with the coziness and warmth of winter’s bounty. I tweaked her recipes a bit to fit our local ingredients but for the most part, we seem to have much in common foodwise with Northern Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Scandinavia and areas of France.
Red Cabbage with Cranberries & Apples
Ingredients: 1 T butter/ 1 medium red onion, sliced/ 1 medium red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced/ 1 cup whole cranberries/ 1 tart apple, peeled and chopped/ 2 T balsamic vinegar/ 1 T brown sugar/ 4 cloves/ 1 cinnamon stick/ salt & pepper
Directions: Melt butter in heavy-bottomed pan and saute onion until soft. Put cabbage and remaining ingredients in with the sauteed onions. Stir, cover and cook over low heat for about a half an hour, stirring from time to time. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves before serving. Salt & pepper to taste.
This is a beautiful dish and an excellent accompaniment to sausages or pork chops. The original recipe calls for dried cranberries as well as fresh so if you have some on hand, you can add them to the mix. Sally also has an Italian red cabbage recipe with olives and capers that’s well worth checking out.
My favorite cabbage is the savoy variety we can find at the farmers market throughout the winter. It has a fresh, mellow taste and is best when lightly cooked. Here’s a recipe for a traditional cabbage soup, baked with bread, broth and fontina cheese. I haven’t used fontina often in the past but since discovering the Willamette Valley Cheese Co.’s , I’ll be using it much more often. It’s young and soft, melts like a dream and has a lovely complex flavor — a real local find.
Baked Cabbage Soup Recipe
Ingredients: 3 T butter/ 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced/ About 1/4 – 1/2 loaf of rustic bread, torn into pieces — use whatever you have, a combination is good too, especially if you add some rye bread/ 1/4 lb. fontina cheese, thinly sliced/ 6 cups chicken broth/ 1/2 large head savoy cabbage, thinly sliced/ several sage leaves, thinly sliced/ Salt & pepper/ Grated parmesan cheese
Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt 2 T butter in large skillet. Gently saute garlic, without coloring. Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan. In an ovenproof casserole dish, layer the bread and cheese, drizzling with garlic butter and salt & pepper as you go. Pour the warm chicken broth over the top of the layered bread mixture and cook in the oven for 45 minutes.
Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the same large skillet/ Add cabbage and sage and saute lightly/ Add 2 T water, salt & pepper/ Cover the skillet, turn down to low and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Take the casserole out of the oven /Turn the heat up to 350 degrees/ Gently stir in the cooked cabbage with buttery juices/ Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top/ Put back in the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes/ Serve immediately.
This delicious one-dish meal is a cross between a savory bread pudding, a very moist stuffing and a hearty soup. Add as much broth as you wish.
I’m learning to see and taste the beauty in our winter foods and hope you will too.