On a recent frigid New England day, when the temperature registered 3 degrees, I was talking on the phone with a woman who, like me, grew up in Memphis, Tenn. We found ourselves bemoaning the freezing weather that prevails in Massachusetts during much of the winter and longing for the milder climate of our native South. My friend had a solution. She was headed to Florida for a respite. But my husband and I had to work and were stuck with the Arctic chill.
After more than a decade in the Northeast, however, I feel experienced in dealing with its winters and have learned to look at the positive side of the season. For starters, the cold seems to stimulate appetites, with the result that people love to entertain and indulge in rich, satisfying fare.
Thick, creamy soups, hearty stews of braised beef, golden pastry-topped potpies and hot, spicy chiles are welcome entries on menus this time of the year. And I have to confess that inviting friends over for a cozy supper with a big fire roaring in the fireplace is appealing.
At one such supper, which I cooked with friends, we started the evening with bowls of olives, a platter of strong cheeses and glasses of wine. Our main course included baby chickens roasted with herbed butter, a gratin of Yukon gold potatoes and pan-sauteed savoy cabbage sprinkled with bacon. A spinach-and-arugula salad was next, followed by carrot cake and coffee.
The cabbage dish was my responsibility and turned out to be the simplest yet most unusual offering of the night. It is prepared with three primary ingredients -- savoy cabbage (a mellow variety with crinkly dark- and light-green leaves), thick-sliced smoked bacon and olive oil -- and takes only about 20 minutes to cook. The bacon is cut, fried until golden and crisp, and set aside. Olive oil is added to the drippings in the skillet, and when the oil is hot, cabbage strips are sauteed until wilted and slightly browned around the edges. Pepper and French sea salt, known as fleur de sel, provide the only seasonings.
This sauteed cabbage would make a delicious accompaniment to roast leg of lamb, roast duck or pork, or as a garnish to grilled veal chops. It's a side dish that will add color and a big boost of flavor to a winter meal and will certainly help you forget how cold it is outside.
Pan-Sauteed Savoy Cabbage With Bacon
Serves 4 to 5
one 2 1/4 - to 2 1/2 -pound Savoy cabbage
6 ounces (about 6 pieces) thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil plus extra if needed
fleur de sel (see note)
freshly ground black pepper
Quarter the cabbage lengthwise and cut out and discard the tough inner cores. Also cut out and discard any tough thick veins. Cut each quarter crosswise, into 1-inch-wide strips. Set aside.
Saute bacon pieces in a large (preferably 11- to 12-inch) heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. You will have about 4 tablespoons (more or less) bacon drippings left in the skillet. Leave the drippings in the pan and add 4 tablespoons olive oil.
Place skillet over medium heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Stir in cabbage strips, a large bunch at a time, until all have been added. Saute, stirring, until cabbage has wilted and some of the leaves begin to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook an additional 6 to 8 minutes until the cabbage becomes more browned and is tender. Remove lid every 2 minutes or so and stir cabbage to prevent burning. If necessary, add more oil. When done, remove lid and stir in the bacon. Season with fleur de sel and pepper to taste. To serve, mound into a serving bowl and serve warm.
Note: Fleur de sel is a type of French sea salt that contains trace minerals. It is more costly than regular salt but is an incredible flavor booster and should be used sparingly. It is available at specialty food stores. If you can't find it, substitute kosher salt.