Friday, February 13, 2009

The Turning

OK, show of hands of those who are ready for Winter to be over, and Spring to be here. As I suspected. Thank you, you can put your hands down now.

We keep having these spells of nice weather--bright sun, almost warm--and we look around and think, ahhhh, it's over. And then it snows. I mean, come on, really? Really?

So last week, in a conflicted state of mind that was attributable completely and entirely to the weather, I bought a dozen and a half pink tulips, and a cabbage. The Spring vegetables haven't really hit yet, so we're left with what stores well: cabbage, leeks, potatoes, beets.

I put the tulips in progressively smaller vases until finally their petals just wouldn't stay on and they scattered like so many enormous blushing snowflakes across my counter and floor, and then out they went. The cabbage sat patiently waiting in the refrigerator. As a cabbage does.

Its moment came with a dinner of Cabbage Gratin with Potatoes. The recipe is in the "vegetables" section of the Food + Wine 2007 Recipes cookbook, but it's got enough heft to be a whole meal in itself. Because it has bacon in it, it's not suitable for your non-carnivorous friends. But for those of you who eat meat, and just can't think of another damned thing to do with another damned cabbage, here's a wonderful idea.

The potatoes are quartered, and roasted separately. I use the little Yukon Golds that you can buy in a mesh bag, but any smallish new potato will do. The the bacon is sauteed, shredded cabbage added and wilted, and the potatoes stirred in. The whole deal is topped with cheese and then popped back in the oven. The original recipe calls for it to be broiled until the cheese starts to brown, but I prefer to actually bake it for a little while until the sauce thickens up and the cheese melts.

F+W calls for farmer cheese, and I have used this (it's what's in the picture), but I've also used Gruyere and Comte. If you're using one of these hard cheeses, I would recommend putting the cheese on in the last five minutes of the baking time, rather than at the beginning. If you do use farmer cheese (or something like it), it can go in the oven for the whole time.

What you end up with is a sort of Cabbage Mess, but a delightful one. The cabbage gets all lovely and caramelized as it cooks with the bacon, and the potatoes are soft and roasty tasting, and the cheese is melted over the top. It's an excellent meal for a night when the weather is playing one of those tricks on you, and the only thing you have to remind you that Spring really is coming are the tulips and the potted primrose you bought at the grocery store, along with that cabbage.

Cabbage Gratin with Potatoes
adapted from The Food + Wine Annual Cookbook, 2007
serves 4 (but they're pretty big servings; might even get 6 out of it)

2 pounds small potatoes (red or Yukon gold), quartered (or in 6ths if they're largeish)
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt + freshly ground pepper
1/2 lb bacon, 1/4" thick slices, cut into 1" pieces
2 lbs green cabbage, cored and thinly slices (as you can see, "thin" is a relative term; I just slice it up and don't worry much about how thick or thin the slices are)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 - 7 1/2 ounce package farmer cheese OR 1 cup shredded hard cheese (Gruyere is nice)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Spread the potatoes on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil over each pan and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until potatoes are browning on the bottom and tender. Remove from the oven and set aside. Leave the oven on.

In a deep ovenproof skillet with a lid (I use a 12" skillet for this), heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Add the bacon pieces and cook over medium heat until browning slightly, about 4-6 minutes. Add the cabbage and toss gently (I use tongs) to combine cabbage and bacon. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender and starting to brown a little, about 12-15 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cook about 2 minutes, then stir in the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the cream. Simmer 1 minute. Remove from the heat and dollop the farmer cheese over the top of the cabbage. Put the skillet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until sauce is thickening, and cheese is melted (if using hard cheese, put the skillet in the oven and bake without the cheese, then scatter it on in the last 5 minutes of cooking to melt it). Serve right away.

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