On the Side

Here we are, living in “prime rib country” (a phrase that should be a bumper sticker) and my husband is the rare bird who just doesn’t care for it. A steak, he reasons, needs its crust. So that’s why I found myself this morning cutting an entire rack of organically raised miniature Highlander prime rib into 2-inch-thick bone-in steaks. Later tonight we will grill them over the wood fire, for probably one of the last outdoor cookouts of the season. (I must admit, I’m partial to the charred edge of a good steak, too.)

Even though I enjoy almost nothing more that making big blow-out dinners for my friends, lately I’ve been struck by how home cooking takes its power from the memorable small things. It’s the private moments—the schmear of farm-fresh egg salad on sourdough toast, the plate of just-picked boiled-and-buttered green beans, the fragrance from the raspberry-picking basket—that you remember the most.

Last week’s cabbage salad, thrown together one afternoon in between recipe testing, is one of those great peripheral dishes. When I see a fresh cabbage my mouth begins to water, reminding me that 60 percent of the blood running in my veins is Germanic. When I worked in kitchens I made the staff meal vegetable from cabbage so often that they called me the Cabbage Queen.

Have you ever made coleslaw from fresh garden cabbage? I remember the first time, years ago, that I shredded a fresh cabbage from our garden. Juice dripped on my cutting board—juice!—and I thought I had raised some sort of strange cabbage hybrid. But no, that’s just what cabbage does when it’s fresh.

The other day I shaved a fresh chunk of cabbage and threw together this salad, inspired by one I had at Frankie’s 457 Spuntino on Court Street in Brooklyn. It couldn’t be simpler, or better, and is hardly a recipe—although I did write it down, as is my habit these days.

 I love the combination of toasted walnuts and shaved parmesan cheese, and I’m always looking for an excuse to use my precious bottle of toasted walnut oil. (LeBlanc is the best.)
Cabbage Salad with Roasted Walnuts and Parmesan
serves four as a side
1/4 large head of green (or red) cabbage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sherry (or wine) vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted walnut oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)
2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
chunk of good parmesan cheese
The only thing that really matters here is toasting the walnuts. I put them in a small cast-iron skillet it in a cold oven, set the oven to 350, set the timer for 20 minutes, and they’re usually perfectly golden when it goes off. What’s the point in preheating the oven to toast nuts?
Shred the cabbage thinly with a mandoline (or by hand). Toss the cabbage with salt, pepper, vinegar, walnut oil and parlsey and mix with your hands to combine. Toss with the chopped walnuts, shave plenty of parmesan over the salad and serve immediately. You can make this a bit ahead, but it does wilt.
While I’m drifting on margins and tangents, here’s a recipe (sort of) for Roasted Applesauce.Faced with baskets upon baskets of small local apples—some from our trees and a few from the Retz farm tree down the road—and wanting to make applesauce but not wanting to spend an entire day paring miniature apples, I laid one basket of apples in my largest roaster, sprinkled them with sugar, set the oven to 375 degrees, and let it rip. What emerged 45 minutes later was so lovely it pained me to push it through the food mill—but I had to, as the seeds were still inside.
The skins came off in one piece and tasted like candy. I couldn’t resist transferring a couple of the prettiest ones to a bowl and eating them with a dollop of whole milk yogurt. These two.

Then I poured a couple of cups of apple cider into the hot pan to deglaze it and scraped up the caramelized bits with a wooden spoon. Feeding the warm apples through the mill took about four minutes, and the sauce was as thick as if I’d spent three hours cooking down peeled, cored apples. I tested the pH and even with the sugar I had added, the apples themselves were acidic enough to be safe to can. I poured the puree into my largest pan and put it back in the oven to heat up, readied my jars and canned the sauce. The whole operation took about two hours and I think it’s some of the best applesauce I’ve ever made, and certainly the easiest. (I canned my pints for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath, but you can also freeze this sauce in heavy plastic ziploc bags.)

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