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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Just Add Heat...

Brimming full of holiday spirit this weekend, we decided to buy our Christmas tree this morning. We lugged it home leaving in our wake, a trail of discarded needles. We re-arranged our living room and set our majestic and perfectly symmetrical fraser fir in a nice corner of the living room. Then we hung a wreath outside our door, put up our Christmas lights at the front of the house, decorated the tree and hung our stockings. We are ready for the holidays.

I fought it for a little while, in fact, all through the fall... but now our heater is humming along keeping us warm in the evenings, the Christmas decorations are up, and our CSA is bringing us winter vegetables to keep our bellies full. All the signs are here - and slowly, but surely, winter vegetables have now become regular guests at dinner.

Admittedly, I do miss tomatoes warmed by the summer sun, and the delicate crispness of tender leafy shoots. Summer vegetables are lush and light, they are meant to stave off little pangs of mid-day hunger but they don’t provide sustenance the way their winter counterparts do. Winter vegetables are hearty, and transform into dishes that fortifies, and strengthens the body and the soul through the cold weather.

Whereas I enjoy most of summer’s jewels eaten out of hand, winter vegetables often require a little more attention. These earthy, hearty vegetables release their flavours with a little warm coaxing. Imagine beets roasted until sweet and yielding, steamy rutabagas (swedes) mashed with buttery carrots, brussels sprouts braised in white wine, and crispy potatoes quarters. Among these is the versatile and highly accessible cabbage. I love the range of flavours that the cabbage possesses: savoury and sweet when cooked; crispy and crunchy when raw; tart and tangy when pickled and tucked in a Rueben sandwich; and soft and sweet with a savoury beef filling inside as a cabbage roll.

So when I laid my eyes on the frilly, crinkled curls of the savoy cabbage, I said, "Come to mama!" I knew I had to have this brassica. Round and substantial, its leaves tightly layered, verdant and bright with pale veins stretching out from its core. Oh the possibilities – I thought a braising, or a sautéing would be in order for tonight’s supper.

Savoy Cabbage with Sausage and Pasta

½ head of savoy cabbage cored
1 lb merguez sausage, removed from casings into thumb-sized pieces*
3 garlic cloves minced
15 small white mushrooms sliced
1/4c white wine (or vegetable broth)
1/2c light cream
1/2c parsley chopped
pinch of salt

1 lb spaghetti

black pepper

1. Cook pasta according to directions to al dente.
2. Slice cabbage into thin strips.
3. While pasta cooks, cook sausage meat over medium heat until it browns. Drain fat and set aside. In the same pan, add garlic and sauté for a minute. Then add mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms soften. Add the cabbage, and white wine and cover pan to allow cabbage to cook down slightly. (Should take about 5-10 minutes)
4. When most of the liquid has evaporated, add cream, sausage and parsley and turn on high to reduce. Stir to fully incorporate.
5. Drain and plate spaghetti. Top with the cabbage and sausage mixture.
6. Grate parmesan on top and add a few grindings of pepper on top.
7. Serve.

*If you don’t have merguez, any savoury sausage will do. We eat a lot of turkey sausage at home. If not, substitute 1 lb of ground meat (lamb for merguez), add a generous pinch of red pepper, salt, pepper and toasted fennel seeds.

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