It is winter now, the uninvited guest. No more sunny autumnal days of leaf-raking. Ferocious wind and deep snow blankets the Midwest and upstate New York, where, as I write, Buffalo is a seamless, motionless city in white. And the ever-luckless Watertown can once again resume bragging rights to the coldest temperatures south of the Canadian border.
Eastern Long Island hangs precariously out into the Gulf Stream that we've depended on for centuries to keep the whole island from sliding back under a glacier.
Maybe it's time to lay in some root vegetables, potatoes and beans, and brace for the snows that are sure to come. That surreal green velvet meadow where Brick Kiln Road meets Scuttlehole cannot possibly go on looking so improbably summery.
My splotchy brown lawn, shredded by the hooves of rutting deer, looks so ugly a coating of snow would be a huge improvement.
The quiet of deep winter inspires big, simmering, warming pots of soup, bean dishes, apple things, or intensely flavored dried fruit desserts. Pretend you're snowbound for a couple of weeks and amaze yourself with your own inventiveness.
At least you'll find out if that three-year-old can of artichoke hearts is still edible, or what to do with those dried cranberries someone gave you.
Stir-frying some of the ingredients lends a more intense and interesting flavor to the pumpkin and some of the other vegetables in this healthy but spicy soup with marked Latino accents.
While this soup is one I got a bit carried away with in the creative process, it is interesting enough to be the Main Attraction of a soup party, abetted by a loaf or two of excellent bread and a cheese board with two or three different types, as plain or fancy as you choose to buy.
Makes about three quarts (or more).
1/2 lb. dried chickpeas (garbanzos) or
2 cans Goya cooked garbanzos
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 small bay leaf
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of cinnamon
3 cups peeled fresh pumpkin, in 1-inch dice
4 cups shredded Savoy cabbage
2 qts. degreased chicken broth
1 chorizo or andouille, sliced in 1/8 rounds
Water as necessary to thin
Salt to taste
Garnish: freshly minced parsley
Stir-Fry For Flavor
Dried chickpeas should be pre-soaked, either overnight or the one-hour quick-soak after boiling for one minute. Then, either simmer them until tender, about an hour and a half, or cook them in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes at full pressure. Reserve the liquid.
Grind whole peppercorns and coriander. Heat a wok and add the oil. Stir in all the spices and saute gently a couple of minutes. Add onion and garlic and fry on low heat until transparent, then add the pumpkin and saute until a bit browned on edges.
Put all the wok ingredients into a deep soup pot. Add the chickpeas (either fresh-cooked or canned - rinse them, if canned) and the chicken broth. In the wok, stir-fry the cabbage briefly, adding a bit more oil if necessary. Add this to the soup pot and bring everything to a boil.
Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes and season to taste with salt. Add the chorizo and serve in warm bowls with thickly cut bread and butter and/or some good cheese.
Sauerkraut And Weisswurst
Kraut bought in sealed packages from refrigerated cases keeps indefinitely in your fridge, so it is a good winter staple. Canned kraut, the stuff they put on hotdogs, is unthinkably awful.
Properly cooked sauerkraut is a light, delicate vegetable, delicious with either boiled or mashed potatoes.
Weisswurst, are, as indicated, white. They're made of pork and veal and come in airtight plastic packages from small German manufacturers like Schaller & Weber.
They're very delicate, as their casings are thin, so are best gently sauteed in a bit of butter over very low heat. Otherwise they tend to explode rather unattractively.
Anyway, they're fully cooked when you buy them.
1 pound fresh sauerkraut
1 Tbsp. bacon dripping or chicken fat
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 to 8 juniper berries, ground
1 medium onion, chopped medium-fine
1 large bay leaf
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
Freshly milled black pepper
Boiled potatoes in parsley
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Drain the sauerkraut well and toss it into a bowl of cold water, slosh it around a bit, then drain it well.
Heat the fat in a skillet and saute the garlic, juniper berries, and onion until tender, but not browned.
Very Hot Plates
Put the sauerkraut into a small ovenproof casserole and mix with the sauteed ingredients and bay leaf, then pour over it the broth and wine mixed together. Mix in lots of fresh pepper, cover tightly with foil and the top of the casserole, and put it in the center of the oven for about an hour (more won't hurt).
Just peek to see that the kraut doesn't cook dry. There should be a moderate amount of juice when it is done.
Boil a few smallish potatoes in salted water. Drain them and shake them over a low flame, then add butter and parsley to coat them well.
Meanwhile, over low heat, gently saute the weisswurst until hot through and touched with gold-brown spots. Serve these on very, very hot plates and put the casserole on the table.
Reisling or beer are perfect with this classic dish.
An old-fashioned appetizer that I love is Clams Casino, whole topnecks with a square of bacon on top, run under the broiler a brief time. So I decided to put these elements together in a sauce for pasta.
You will need freshly shucked clams, which can be had at almost any decent fishmonger's. Chop them by hand with a sharp knife, as a processor turns them to mush.
The dish is so simple and quick to make, you can get it together in the time it takes the pasta water to come to a boil.
2 to 4 slices thick-cut bacon
1/2 pint shucked clams (cherrystones, for preference)
1 Tbsp. olive oil plus 2 more Tbs. for pasta
1 fat clove garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. No. 9 spaghettini
Sprinkling of chopped parsley
Bacon And Clams
Put a large pot of salted water on, for boiling the pasta.
Carefully saute the bacon, turning it often, then drain it on paper towels. Chop the clams. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet and lightly saute the garlic; do not brown.
Boil the spaghettini to your taste, drain it, and toss it with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic, and a few pepper flakes. Quickly heat the chopped clams, half a minute or so, in the remaining bacon fat, then add them to the pasta and divide it into two heated pasta bowls.
Sprinkle the crisp bacon and some parsley over each serving.