During the cold snowy days of winter, nothing is more satisfying than comfort food. Familiar, unpretentious fare, it consoles when the thermometer plunges and the landscape turns white. Roast chicken, pot roast with rich dark gravy, smothered pork chops, macaroni and cheese, potato gratins, chocolate chip cookies and apple pie are the types of dishes I long for and find myself preparing for my family and for company.
In the winter, I often invite people for supper rather than for dinner -- the former conjuring up an image of a simple, satisfying meal and the latter denoting a more formal repast. I am already planning one of these winter suppers and have chosen a menu of comfort foods. A rich soup made with carrots, turnips and leeks, offered with a basket of warm peasant bread, will begin our evening in front of a roaring fire. It will be followed at the table by sauteed sausages, braised red cabbage and mounds of mashed potatoes. A baked pear crisp will bring the night to a close.
I'll serve either Bruce Aidells' chicken and apple sausages or reduced-fat kielbasas, both of which are full of flavor and gentler on the waistline. The braised red cabbage is an updated version of a classic cold weather dish. Shredded cabbage is sauteed with onions, seasoned with wine vinegar, a little sugar and crushed fennel seeds, then simmered in water for about 45 minutes until tender.
The cabbage is served with a garnish of finely diced Granny Smith apple, toasted walnuts and minced flat-leaf parsley. The white and light green hues of the fruit, the brown-coated nuts and the dark green flecks of the herb make a striking visual counterpoint to the deep red cabbage.
A single recipe serves four. If you want to double the amount, plan on cooking the cabbage in two batches in two separate skillets.
Braised Red Cabbage With an Apple, Walnut and Parsley Garnish
one medium (2 pounds or larger) red cabbage
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup (1 medium) chopped onion
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds (see note)
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely diced ( 1/4 inch) Granny Smith apple, cored but unpeeled
2 tablespoons walnuts, toasted and chopped (see note)
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Quarter cabbage, then cut each quarter crosswise into 1/4 -inch strips. Cut enough cabbage to yield 8 cups. (Save extra cabbage for another use.)
In a large, heavy, nonreactive skillet set over medium heat, heat oil until hot. Then add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and just starting to take on color, about 3 minutes. Add cabbage and cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes.
Whisk vinegar, sugar and fennel seeds together in a bowl and pour over the cabbage in the skillet. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and several grindings of pepper. Cook, stirring often, until all liquid has evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes or longer. Add 2 cups water and stir to mix. Lower heat and cover skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender but not mushy, 45 minutes or longer. Season cabbage with additional salt to taste, if needed. (Cabbage can be prepared a day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat in a skillet, stirring, over low heat.)
When ready to serve, mix together diced apple, walnuts and parsley. Serve the cabbage with roast chicken, pork or duck, or grilled sausages. Garnish each portion with some of the apple and walnut mixture.
Note: To crush fennel seed, use a mortar and pestle or place in resealable plastic bag and crush with meat pounder or rolling pin.
To toast walnuts, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place on center shelf of a 350-degree oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and cool.