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In the ’90s, prewashed and bagged baby salad greens changed salad eating in America forever. I was as excited about bagged baby spinach as the next person. No more endless washing of bunch spinach, only to end up with a handful after I cooked it. I averted my eyes from the price tags on the 6-ounce bags and found great bargains at my local Iranian market for big bags packed tight with 2½ pounds of the small flat leaves.
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I’ve had my spinach epiphany, and now I enjoy the time that I spend at the sink stemming and washing my farmers market spinach, in the same way that I enjoy shelling English peas; the prize is worth the task. I admire the feel and look of it as I break off the stems and rub the gritty but lush sandy leaf bottoms where they meet the stems between my fingers. The inner leaves are often light at the stem end, pink or purple in some varieties (I ask the farmer what the variety is, but I never remember the names). The sand departs easily from the leaves when you swish them around in a bowl of water, lift them out, drain the water, and swish them around again in a second bowl. The leaves, no longer gritty, feel plush in my hands.
Delicious spinach plain or buttered up
When I wilt spinach, I have to keep myself from eating it right away if it’s destined for a particular dish. For I love a pile of blanched or wilted spinach unadorned, or enhanced with little more than olive oil or butter, salt, pepper and sometimes garlic. This penchant began in earnest when I lived in France. My neighborhood brasserie was Le Muniche in the rue de Buci — alas, now gone — and my standard meal there was a simple piece of grilled salmon or a plate of marinated saumon crue aux baies roses (raw salmon with red peppercorns), always served with pommes de terre vapeur and a generous helping of spinach, blanched, buttered and salted. There must have been one poor young soul in the Le Muniche kitchen brigade whose only job was to stem, wash and blanch kilos of spinach all day, every day.
Spinach, more than any other green, changes when you cook it for too long, and not for the better. That’s why Popeye had the job of trying to make kids eat their spinach way back in the days when canned spinach was the norm. It loses its forest green color, fading to olive drab, and its flavor becomes drab too, even downright unappealing, a strong metallic aftertaste overcoming the freshness and promise that was once there. Twenty seconds of blanching is all it needs, or a minute in a steamer. You can wilt it in a pan or wok in the steam created by the water left on the leaves after washing, but with the exception of stir-fries I rarely use this method because it’s easier to cook the spinach evenly, in one quick go, if I blanch it.
Plain or Seasoned Spinach
Blanching is my preferred method of wilting spinach because it’s so efficient. People will tell me that I’m losing nutrients in the boiling water, but it’s such a quick blanch — 20 seconds. If you prefer to steam, see the directions below.
Serves 2 to 4
1 or 2 generous bunches spinach
Salt to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Optional: 1 to 2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1. Stem the spinach and wash well in two changes of water. Meanwhile, if blanching, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously.
2. Fill a bowl with cold water before you add the spinach to the boiling water, as it wilts immediately. Add the spinach to the boiling water and blanch for about 15 to 20 seconds.
3. With a large skimmer transfer to the cold water, then drain and squeeze dry by the handful. Don’t be dismayed by how little spinach those lush bunches have yielded. Just enjoy what’s there. It’s so nutrient-dense, a small serving is quite satisfying.
4. Chop the wilted spinach medium fine or leave the leaves whole.
5. To steam the spinach, add to a steamer set above 1 inch of boiling water and cover. The spinach will wilt in 1 minute. Rinse with cold water and squeeze dry by the handful.
6. To season, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons (depending on the amount of spinach you have) olive oil over medium heat in a heavy, medium size or large skillet and add 1 to 2 minced garlic cloves.
7. Cook until the garlic begins to sizzle and smell fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the herbs if using, spinach and salt and pepper to taste, and stir and toss in the pan for about a minute, until nicely infused with the oil, garlic and herbs. Remove from the heat.
Top photo: Spinach at the farmers market. Credit: iStockphoto
This lasagna recipe is Martha Rose Shulman’s family favorite, a two-day affair with made-from-scratch Bolognese ragù.
I was awakened one beautiful morning in June, when I was about 17, by the sound of my stepmother Mary running up the stairs by my bedroom door, weeping. I thought somebody had died. There had been death in my family before, and the running and the tears sounded eerily, scarily familiar. I ventured from my bed, down the stairs to the kitchen, where I found my stepsister amid some broken crockery. She looked very serious and sad. “What happened?” I asked, afraid to know the answer.
“Phydeau stole the lasagna.”
Phydeau was a crazy male Weimaraner that my parents had gotten when they bought our big stone house in Wilton, Conn., on two fenced acres of flat land. But no amount of running could calm that dog down. The lasagna in question was one of Mary’s specialties. She had spent two days on it; she’d made Bolognese ragù. She hadn’t made the pasta, but this was before no-boil lasagna noodles, so you had to cook them before layering them with the sauce, the béchamel and the Parmesan.
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Phydeau wasn’t known for his brains but he clearly had cunning. He couldn’t reach the back of the stove but somehow he must have jumped and pushed it along, jumped and pushed it along, until it reached an edge and fell, shattering the dish on the kitchen floor and splattering lasagna everywhere.
Phydeau’s days with us were now numbered. My parents found him a nice home with their handyman, Mr. Dewing, who could whistle like a warbler and adored the dog. They replaced him with two Hungarian Vizsla puppies named Bonnie and Clyde. They too were smart and cunning, but not as cunning as Mary. She found a higher shelf for cooling her lasagna and never left one out overnight again.
Lasagna with Ragù
Serves 6 to 8
The recipe for the ragù makes more than you need for this lasagna, but it will keep for five days in the refrigerator and freezes well for a few months.
For the ragù:
¾ pound lean beef, such as chuck blade or chuck center
¼ pound mild Italian sausage
1 ounce prosciutto di Parma
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery, with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup dry red wine
1½ cups poultry or meat stock
1 cup milk
1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, with about half the juice, crushed or coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the béchamel:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
3 cups milk (may use low-fat milk)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
For the lasagna:
¾ to 1 pound no-boil lasagna noodles, as needed
3 cups ragù
3 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (¾ cup, tightly packed)
2 tablespoons butter, for the top of the lasagna
1. Make the ragù a day ahead if possible. Coarsely grind together the beef, sausage and prosciutto, using a food processor or a meat grinder. Set aside.
2. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy non-stick skillet, and have a heavy 4- or 5-quart saucepan or casserole ready next to it. Add the pancetta, onion, celery and carrot, and cook, stirring, until the onion is just beginning to color, about 10 minutes. Stir the garlic and ground meats into the pan and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring and scooping up the meats, until all the pink has been cooked out, 10 to 15 minutes. The meat should not be browned, just cooked through. Spoon the mixture into a strainer set over a bowl and give the strainer a shake to drain some of the fat. Transfer to the saucepan or casserole.
3. Add the wine to the frying pan and reduce over medium heat, stirring any glaze from the bottom of the pan up into the bubbling wine. Reduce by half, which should take from 3 to 5 minutes. Stir into the pot with the other ingredients, and set over medium heat. Add ½ cup of the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the stock evaporates, 8 to 10 minutes. Add another ½ cup of the stock and repeat. Stir in the remaining stock and the milk. Turn the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer 45 minutes to an hour, stirring often, until the milk is no longer visible. Add the tomatoes and their juice, salt to taste, and stir together. Turn the heat very low, so that the mixture is cooking at a bare simmer. Cook very slowly, partially covered, for 1½ to 2 hours. Stir often. The sauce should be thick and meaty when done. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Make the béchamel. Heat the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy saucepan. Add the flour to the butter and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until smooth and bubbling. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring, for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and lost its raw flour taste. Season with salt, pepper, and pinch of nutmeg. The béchamel isn’t meant to be very thick.
5. Assemble the lasagna. Have the ragù, béchamel, lasagna noodles and grated cheese within reach. Butter or oil a 3-quart baking dish or gratin. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
6. Reserve about 6 tablespoons each béchamel and cheese for the top layer of the lasagna. Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of pasta over the béchamel and spread about 4 tablespoons béchamel over the noodles. Top with a thin layer of ragù (about 4 to 5 tablespoons) and a lightly sprinkling — about 1½ tablespoons — cheese. Repeat the layers until all but one layer of noodles and the béchamel and cheese that you set aside is used up (you might have some extra pasta). Add a last layer of lasagna noodles, cover the top with the béchamel you set aside, and finally, the cheese. Dot with butter. Cover with foil.
7. Bake the lasagna for 30 minutes, until bubbling and the pasta is cooked al dente. Uncover and continue to bake 5 to 10 minutes to brown the top. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Advance preparation: The lasagna can be assembled a day or two ahead and kept in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to a month, well covered. Keep it in the refrigerator — don’t make the mistake Mary made.
Top photo: Meat lasagna. Credit: istockphoto
Recently I listened to cookbook author Maricel Presilla, an authority on the cuisines of Latin America, talking on NPR. She was making yucca fries with the host of “Morning Edition” and was apparently sitting down while she cut up the yucca. Presilla mentioned the fact that she does many of the kitchen tasks in her book, “Latin American Cuisine,” while sitting down.
“Women all over Latin America sit together in the kitchen to accomplish tasks like making tamales and empanadas,” she said. This evoked visions of women sitting together and gossiping in home kitchens all over the world — Greeks making dolmades, North Africans preparing couscous, Lebanese skinning mountains of fava beans or chickpeas. I thought of my son’s French godmother, Christine Picasso, a terrific cook who now at age 84 almost always sits on a stool at her pink marble counter in Provence to prepare food for the wonderful meals she makes for us.
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Amra gave me a bowl with 10 peeled potatoes and showed me how she cut them into very small dice, about ¼-inch square. She used the exact same method that her mother was using for the apples and that Christine uses when she cuts cucumbers into tiny dice for her cucumber and fromage blanc salad. It’s a knife task that is as easy to do sitting down as it is standing up. As for the knife you use, a paring knife will do (it will help if it’s sharp).
Knife technique improves dice
What you do is cut a grid down the length of the produce and slice off the grid so that it falls in neat little squares into a bowl. You hold the potato (or cucumber, or zucchini or cored apple) in one hand and make thin slices in one direction down the length. Then you turn it a quarter turn and do the same, and finally, holding the whole potato over a bowl, you slice across the vertical cuts. The slices can go almost the entire length, leaving the potato intact at the other end, or you can work sections, an inch or two at a time (that’s the way I like to do it). It’s not fancy knife work; it’s slow and methodical, and it results in fine, even dice that can be as tiny as you need them to be.
Most restaurant chefs don’t have the luxury of sitting down; they’re working too fast in cramped kitchens. But in a home kitchen it’s worth thinking about, especially if you cook a lot. I for one often forget that certain kitchen tasks are as easily done seated. If my feet, legs and back could talk, surely they would remind me. They’re always grateful for the rest.
Christine’s Fromage Blanc aux Concombres
Makes about 3½ cups, serving 6
We can’t get the same kind of fromage blanc that the French eat as commonly as yogurt in the States, so use a blend of cottage cheese and yogurt. Christine seasons this with lots of black pepper; we eat it all summer long in Provence.
1 long European cucumber or 3 or 4 Persian cucumbers (equivalent weight)
Salt to taste
1 cup small-curd cottage cheese
1 cup low-fat plain Greek style yogurt
Lots of freshly ground pepper
1. There’s no need to peel the cucumbers if they aren’t waxed. Rinse and dry. Ideally, the weather will be warm and you can find a beautiful, shady spot to sit outside. Using the method described above, cut the cucumber into very small dice. Optional: sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 15 minutes in a colander (Christine doesn’t do this but it will prevent the dish from becoming watery later).
2. In a bowl, using a fork, or in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, blend together the cottage cheese and yogurt. It can be smooth or lumpy, to your taste. Transfer to a bowl if you used a food processor.
3. Stir in the cucumber, season to taste with salt and lots of pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
4. Chill until ready to serve. Serve with toasted bread, or as a salad.
Top photo: Fromage blanc with diced cucumbers. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman
We kids from non-observant Jewish families were always the lucky ones at holiday time. We got presents for Chanukah and for Christmas. My son has it both ways too. We light the candles every night during the Jewish holiday (though the presents only appear at the beginning and the end) but we also love our Christmas tree, which goes up about a week before Christmas and stays there until the New Year. Santa never really cared that we were Jewish – he likes the cookies and milk we still leave for him on Christmas Eve too much — though my more observant friends have looked askance at the tree.
As for food, like everybody else celebrating Chanukah I’ll be making potato latkes. My recipe is based on one by Wolfgang Puck, that I tested and loved when I worked on his book “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy.” I’ll serve it with smoked salmon and a smoked trout purée, applesauce and sour cream.
Meanwhile, I’m already beginning my Christmas baking. Tart shells and sponge cake for my Christmas trifle are going into the freezer so that I can get a jump on Christmas dinner. Last year during this season I was busy testing pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer’s cookie recipes for his upcoming cookbook, “The Art of French Pastry,” so I had plenty to put on and under the tree. This year I’ll make his Christmas sablés and his coconut rochers, which are like mini coconut macaroons. I’ll eat Christmas dinner at the home of close friends, as I always do, and make Yorkshire pudding to go with their roast. I’ll use the recipe I grew up on, from the splattered page 591 of Mildred O. Knopf’s all-but-forgotten classic, “Cook, My Darling Daughter.”
Potato Latkes with Smoked Trout Purée
These latkes are based on Wolfgang Puck’s recipe. He serves his with whitefish. I serve mine with smoked salmon and with the smoked trout puree that follows.
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled
1 small onion, peeled
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking oil, such as canola, peanut or safflower
1. Using the large holes of a box grater/shredder, or the medium grating disk on a food processor, shred the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Grate in the onion.
2. Line a large bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Transfer the mixture to the towel-lined bowl, twist the towel around it and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (alternatively you can pick the mixture up by handfuls and squeeze dry). Transfer to another bowl.
3. Add the egg, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork until well blended.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the latke mixture into a ¼-cup measure and reverse onto the parchment. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
5. Meanwhile, heat about ¼ inch of oil in a large, heavy skillet or in an electric fryer set at 350 F, until it ripples and feels quite hot when you hold your hand over it. Carefully slide an offset spatula underneath a mound of latke mixture and place in the pan. Press down on the mixture with a spatula to form an evenly thick pancake about 3 inches in diameter. Add more latkes, taking care not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook the pancakes until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side, turning them over carefully with a slotted metal spatula. Transfer to a tray or platter lined with paper towels or a rack to drain. Continue with the remaining mixture. If not serving right away, allow to cool completely. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and heat in the oven until crisp, about 10 minutes.
6. Serve with sour cream, drained yogurt or crème fraîche and smoked salmon or the trout spread below. Also serve with applesauce.
Smoked Trout Spread
Makes about 1½ cups, serving 10
½ pound smoked trout (without bones or skin)
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or drained yogurt (more to taste)
1 tablespoon cream cheese (can use reduced fat)
1 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (more to taste)
1. Place the smoked trout in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until finely chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and process to a smooth purée. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. The mixture will stiffen up.
Mildred O. Knopf’s Yorkshire Pudding Chippendale
My stepmother always used this Yorkshire Pudding recipe, from Mildred O. Knopf’s “Cook My Darling Daughter.” I now have her book, and in the back she’s penciled 3 recipes with the page numbers, all of which are splattered from much use: Yorkshire, Roast Beef, and Pastry. The Yorkshire, which has the title Yorkshire Pudding Chippendale with no explanation of what the word “Chippendale” refers to (the dish it’s made in?), is not made in the classical English way with the drippings from the meat; it’s made with butter, lots of it. It’s like a big popover, and irresistible. Here is the recipe, exactly as Mildred O. Knopf wrote it in 1959, with some annotations by my stepmother and by me. Make it while your roast is resting.
[Preheat oven to 450º]
3 ounces butter (my stepmother has penciled in — 6 Tbl)
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt (I increase the salt by ¼ teaspoon or even a bit more; I think Mildred was using salted butter, which was the norm in those days)
FIRST Melt 3 ounces butter in a 10″ x 12″ pan in a preheated 450º oven.
SECOND While the butter is melting, beat 2 eggs with 1 cup milk. Sift 1 cup flour, measure, and resift with ¼ teaspoon salt (I suggest ½ teaspoon). Stir into milk, beating well to blend.
THIRD Remove pan from oven, pour in mixture on top of butter. Return to oven and bake until puffed up and brown for approximately ½ hour. Crisp, buttery and delicious! Serve cut in large squares with roast beef. Nothing better.
From “Cook, My Darling Daughter,” by Mildred O. Knopf, Alfred A, Knopf, New York, 1962
Top photo: The author’s Christmas tree decorations include a Star of David cookie. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman
Among the many things I’m thankful for at Thanksgiving are the winter vegetables that fall into my “under-appreciated” category, roots like turnips, and rutabaga, kohlrabi and celeriac. They’re in abundance in November, and they often appear on my Thanksgiving buffet. Turnips are especially welcome. I pair them with potatoes in a gratin that’s plenty rich and comforting, but half as starchy as a traditional potato gratin. If I can get the turnips with the greens attached, which isn’t a challenge if I buy them at the farmers market, then I blanch the greens and add them to the mix.
Turnips also find their way into a classic puréed winter vegetable soup, the kind of soup French women can make with their eyes closed. Even big turnips that are on the mealy side are great in this soup. In fact, once turnips reach this state, soup is the only place for them. And what a good home it is. The vegetable soup makes a simple start to a Thanksgiving dinner.
‘Neeps and Tatties’: Potato and Turnip Gratin
1 pound turnips
1 pound potatoes, such as Yukon Gold (or you can use ¾ pound turnips and 1¼ pounds potatoes)
Freshly ground pepper
1¾ cups milk (whole, 2% or 1%)
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for the gratin dish
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you prepare the turnips and potatoes. If the turnips are small baby turnips, trim, peel and leave whole. If they are large, peel and slice about ¼-inch thick. Scrub potatoes — only peel them if you want to — and slice about ¼-inch thick, or a little thinner if desired.
2. When the water comes to a boil, drop in the turnips; if they are whole, boil for 5 minutes; if sliced, boil for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of cold water and drain. Slice whole turnips about ¼-inch thick. Drop the sliced potatoes into the boiling water and boil 5 minutes. Drain and toss with the turnips in a bowl.
3. Heat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 2½- or 3-quart gratin dish. Layer the potatoes and turnips, generously salting and peppering each layer before covering it with the next. When all of the potatoes and turnips are used up, mix together the milk and cream, and pour over. Dot the top with butter.
4. Bake the gratin for an hour to an hour and a half, breaking up the top layer with a large spoon every 10 to 15 minutes and stirring it under along with the browned top surface. The gratin is done when most of the liquid has been absorbed and the top and edges are golden brown. Serve hot or warm.
Variation: Neeps, tatties and greens
If the turnips are attached to their greens, strip the greens off the stems, wash in two changes of water and blanch for 2 minutes in salted boiling water. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop medium-fine and toss with the turnips and potatoes at the end of Step 2.
Purée of Winter Vegetable Soup
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ pound leeks (1 large or 2 small), white and light green part only, cleaned well and sliced
½ pound carrots (2 large), peeled and sliced
1 pound turnips, peeled and diced
½ pound potatoes (such as 2 medium Yukon Golds), peeled and diced
1½ quarts water, chicken stock or vegetable stock (more as needed)
A bouquet garni made with 1 bay leaf and a couple of sprigs each of thyme and parsley
½ cup crème fraîche (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes, and add the leeks and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender but not colored, about 5 more minutes. Add the carrots, turnips, potatoes, and water or stock and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste (about 2 teaspoons if using water) and the bouquet garni. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 1 hour. Remove the bouquet garni and discard.
2. Using an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender, blend the soup until smooth. If you use a blender, only fill halfway and cover the top with a towel rather than a tight-fitting lid, or take the center piece out of the lid and cover with a towel so the soup won’t splash or force the top off. Place a coarse or medium-mesh strainer over a bowl and put the soup through a strainer, pressing the soup through with the back of your ladle or with a pestle. Return to the pot. Thin out to taste with more stock. If desired, whisk in ½ cup crème fraîche, and heat through. Add lots of freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust salt.
Note: To make a quick vegetable stock, cut away the dark green outer leaves of the leeks, wash thoroughly and simmer in a pot of water with the peelings from the carrots while you prepare your other vegetables. Strain and use for the soup.
Advance preparation: The finished soup will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. Whisk before reheating.
Photo: Turnips at the farmers market. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman
Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. I woke up this morning with minestrone on my mind. “Must make hearty soup before the electricity goes out.”
Since my Connecticut childhood, I’ve always been at least a half a continent away from East Coast hurricane activity. But this year the timing of my October New York trip is unlucky. (And when has there ever been a hurricane like this at the end of October?)
The subways shut down yesterday at 7 p.m., 24 hours before Hurricane Sandy’s anticipated storm surge. Supermarkets and corner bodegas were packed all weekend, the sidewalks clogged with people carting home cases of water. My mother’s nurse went to buy supplies at the Fairway on the Upper West Side on Sunday morning and she said the shelves were already stripped of bottled water and canned goods.
I’m safe on high ground in Chelsea, in my sister’s fourth floor walk-up. Yesterday she felt pretty confident about the amount of food she had on hand, but by last night, anticipating a few days of both of us being housebound, possibly with no electricity, she reconsidered. That’s why I woke up with soup on my mind.
Bare store shelves
I was at Gristedes before 9 a.m., and it was not packed. The crowds had already come and gone, and just about every basket in the produce section was bare. I grabbed a couple of leeks and a cabbage. Phew! I always feel confident when I have a cabbage in my kitchen because there’s so much you can do with this humble, under-appreciated vegetable.
But where were the onions? “No onions?” I asked the produce guy.
“No, just that little red one, and that’s only there because I went downstairs to look for onions for another customer,” he said.
I grabbed it and the two remaining carrots in the bin, some garlic and some canned tomatoes. I didn’t bother with the droopy parsley because what I didn’t use would only rot in my sis’ half-size fridge.
I snatched up a bag of lentils — dried beans were much more plentiful than canned — and some rice, a hunk of Parmesan with a nice looking rind for my bouquet garni, and headed home to cook.
Lentil and Cabbage Minestrone
Makes 6 servings
A comforting soup for a storm.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small to medium yellow or red onion, chopped
1 large or 2 medium carrots, cut in ½-inch dice
Salt to taste
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and cleaned, sliced thin
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, minced
½ medium cabbage, cored and shredded
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with juice
½ teaspoon dried thyme (1 teaspoon fresh leaves, or more to taste)
½ pound lentils (about 1⅛ cups), picked over and rinsed
2 quarts water
1 Parmesan rind
A few sprigs each parsley and thyme, if available
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan for serving
1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just about tender, about 5 minutes, and add the leeks. Cook, stirring, until the leeks are slightly wilted, about 3 minutes, and stir in the garlic and cabbage, along with another generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, just until the garlic smells fragrant and the cabbage has begun to wilt, about 3 minutes, and stir in the tomatoes with their juice, the thyme, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant. Stir in the lentils and water and bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile tie the Parmesan rind, parsley and thyme sprigs and the bay leaf together with kitchen twine, or tie in a piece of cheesecloth. Add to the soup. Reduce the heat to low, season to taste with salt, about 2 teaspoons to begin with (you will probably add more), cover and simmer 1 hour, until the lentils are tender and the broth fragrant. Remove the bouquet garni.
3. Add pepper to the soup and stir in rice, or just add rice to each bowl when you serve the soup. Taste. Is there enough salt? Garlic? Adjust seasonings. Stir in the parsley. Serve, topping each bowlful with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Photo: Lentil and cabbage minestrone by candlelight during Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Melodie Bryant