Saturday, July 10, 2010

Red wine braised cabbage

I detest winter.

What I want is mangoes, pineapples, coconuts, a mojito and a banana lounge. With an ocean view. And the scent of frangipani on the breeze. Every year, without fail, at this time of year, I start yearning for sunshine. Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia. Phuket. Bali. Hoi An. I am desperate for warmth.

What I’ve got is the coldest day on record, and root vegetables. And cabbage. And onions. Red cabbage, oh so slowly braised in red wine, cooked until meltingly soft and sweetened slightly with honey, is all that is keeping me from rapid escape to a tropical island.

A pot of stock, simmering all day on the stove, fills the house with steam. All day braising in the oven heats the room. It’s not tropical humidity, but it is warm and savoury and comforting.

Winter, seasonally and metaphorically, has a place and a point. Winter is about slowing down and resting and waiting, and being patient. Winter, with its biting wind and bitter cold, demands we stay put and relax. There is a more than one way to hibernate. It took a little bit of sulking, but I reminded that for me, hibination is rich with casserole and soup and steamed pudding and curry and roasted joints and stock. Putting things on the stove and forgetting about them and having a nap.

Vegetables don’t, strictly speaking, require the long cooking times and gentle low heats that really benefit sinuous cuts of meat. But the slow, slow cooking breaks down the cabbage, rendering it silky-smooth, and the grated potato releases sticky starches, contributing to a result that is soft and rich, without being cloying or heavy. Opening the oven while it is half way through cooking releases a cloud of wine flavoured steam, heady and inspiring.

So while the cabbage does it magic in the oven, I pour a glass of wine, curl up with a book and a hot water bottle, and wait. I may be dreaming of summer: but this too is part of winter. Daydreaming and waiting.

Braised cabbage

I came across this recipe in the French Laundry Cookbook and was surprised that it was simple, healthy and just perfect for winter. I’ve changed the quantities around to allow for more sensible, family portions (Thomas Keller is a bit keen on the ‘tasting menu tiny portions’, which is a great for a restaurant but less cool for eating at home).

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium sized red onion, finely diced
½ red cabbage, very finely sliced (technical term: chiffonnade)
240 ml red wine
2 green apples, peeled, cored and grated
2 tsp honey
2 medium sized waxy potatoes, peeled and grated
Salt to taste

Pre heat oven to 170ºc.

Sauté the red onion over a low heat on the stove top in an oven proof casserole dish (or in a saucepan and then transfer to a casserole dish. Stir in cabbage, apples and red wine. The red wine will come about half way up the vegetables.

Press baking paper to cover the cabbage, cover with a lid (if you have one, or foil instead).

Cook in the oven for about 2 hours (longer is fine).

After two hours, remove from oven, stir through the honey and grated potato. Cover again with baking paper and lid. Cook in the oven for another hour.

Remove from oven, season with salt to taste. Add a little vinegar if preferred.

This a great side dish with chicken, pork, ham or fish. It’s probably a bit sweet for lamb and beef, but don’t let me stop you. Mustard or a mustard sauce complements this wonderfully.

Cabbage will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

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