Monday, February 28, 2011

Harvest Meal: Potato and Cabbage Soup

You know what?  There's no way that I have found to make potato and cabbage soup look attractive in a photograph.  Admittedly, my kitchen has lousy lighting, and my camera is hopelessly obsolescent by the standards of our time.  Likewise, there's no way to make "potato and cabbage soup" sound anything other than dreary.  My soup tasted good, and I'll get to all that in a minute.  Right now I'm just going to tell you that the cabbage itself was gorgeous, and the picture above doesn't begin to do it justice. 

It was a mild Sunday, and I was out in the garden, checking things out.  Little shoots of garlic poking up, pathetic looking leeks and cabbages that had never been harvested.   Short rows of tatsoi that looked like they may have actually overwintered.  No sign yet of the long awaited asparagus.  But there among the bedraggled heads of cabbage was one that had a robust red-purple color and some physical integrity.  One of its outer leaves curled protectively over the head like a bonnet.  Did appearances deceive?  I reached down and gave it a gentle squeeze.  It was firm and dense!  Maybe it wasn't the biggest cabbage, but it was ready to eat.  And I was ready to eat it.

I came inside and started putting a pot of soup together.  I hardly even bother researching recipes these days, because meals pretty much come down to eating what we have on hand.  And late winter is lean pickin's, I don't mind telling you.  So.  Candidate ingredients to go with the cabbage included our potatoes and garlic, boughten onions and carrots, a tiny bit of pork sausage (pastured meat from a local farm), some homemade canned stock, and spices.  From there, the recipe wrote itself.

Take the sausage out of its casing, break it into little bits and brown them in a soup pot.  When that's done, set them aside and cook a big, finely diced onion in the remaining pork fat with a bit of added butter.  Sweat, sweat, till soft and golden, adding white pepper, kosher salt, caraway seed, and bay leaves while it cooks.  Then stir in some minced garlic to cook a bit.  Add a quart of stock and a pint of water and heat it slowly, so as to have time to scrub the potatoes (purple!) and chop them into bite sized pieces.  Add the potatoes (~1.25#/~0.5 kg) in the warming liquid, then finely chop half of the cabbage head.  Add that in along with the cooked sausage as the liquid starts to simmer.  Grate a couple carrots with a cheese grater.  Pour a glass of wine, reduce the heat to minimum, cover the pot, and walk away for a few minutes.  Come back, add the carrots, and taste to adjust the seasonings.  A tad more salt.  Perfect.  Serve and eat.  With crusty bread if you like.

It was good soup, even if the potatoes were not the best variety for soup.  The stock made from the Thanksgiving turkey that was smoked with rosemary and apple wood chips really made the soup pop.  I'll even acknowledge the possibility that without superb stock, the soup might not have amounted to much.

Good though the soup was, harvest meals over the winter tend not to be very exciting.  The word "stodge" often lurks just below the level of utterance.  Maybe it's the fact that we're mostly locked in to relying in a very small number of foods that don't change much for months on end.  Spring, summer, and fall are different; the variety is wider and ever changing.  I'm still working on learning how to eat from our own stores through the winter months, with many failures and hard lessons.  But mostly I'm just ready for spring.  I cannot wait for the first snow peas, and arugula, and chives, and asparagus - fresh green things.  In the meantime, I practice gratitude that we have plenty to eat.


Wendy said...

I love soup. In fact, we had something similar last night - only no lovely overwintered cabbage, and instead of sausage, our meat was chicken (with the stock being made from the chicken that was roasted a few days ago :).

I hear what you're saying, though. By this time of year, there's a longing for something ... antyhing ... fresh.

El Gaucho said...

Great post. Those are always the most satisfying meals to cook. The ones where you have limited ingredients, super low expectations, and all certainty that it will be a "blah" dish, but against all odds you make something that's pretty good.

Chile said...

Mmmm, sounds wonderful. I missed the farmers market this past weekend but must make it next to try to find some local cabbage and spuds.

Paula said...

February was known back in the good old bad old days as 'hungry month'.

I still have a lot of onions and garlic hanging in the garage, but my lovely parsnips all started growing again and now I can't use them. The garage is not reliable for cold storage. In some ways, I'm sorry we didn't move to some place a lot colder; keeping things long term without resorting to freezing or canning is going to be my trial.

You soup sounds really good. Today would be a good day for soup.

M L Jassy said...

I learned the hard way that you need to bind a cabbage when it is growing. I'm a devotee of cabbage, so excellent choice of souped up harvest meal.

Kate said...

Wendy, sounds like good soup! Spring, and fresh things, are coming soon.

El Gaucho, thanks. I like winging it in the kitchen.

Chile, your season undoubtedly starts earlier than ours. Spring cabbages soon be available for you very soon.

Paula, I wonder whether the straw bale trick might work for your parsnips. I've heard it recommended for places with really cold areas. Whole bales are set on top of the roots to keep them from freezing solid. But the field reports are that in those truly cold areas the bales turn into immovable frozen blocks of ice. For you they might work differently; place them at the coldest time of the year to insulate the ground from the growing warmth, keeping the roots in stasis longer. Think that could work?

Mitzi, I've never heard of binding cabbage. What does that entail? And what happens if you don't?

Dmarie said...

I'm a huge soup fan. for some reason though, I always forget about bay leaves. thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

I heard about piracicaba broccoli from your blog, and have some seeds. Do you start these extra early for transplant, like regular broccoli? If you have time to answer, thanks so much!

Mr. H. said...

We made this last night after reading your post. You're right, it's not very photo friendly but it sure does taste good...really good. Thanks for the great recipe as we were looking for a way to use up some of our red cabbage.:)

Kate said...

Dmarie, they're almost a given for me whenever I cook anything liquidy. Glad to provide a reminder.

Anon, yes, I start piracicaba early. It's bred to be both heat tolerant and cold hardy, so you should be able to transplant when it has a few true leaves.

Mr. H. I'm flattered you found my recipe worth preparing as written, and delighted it met with your approval once ready to eat. Thanks for letting me know.