Wild mushrooms are the ultimate forager's prize. Ephemeral and camouflaged, they represent the bounty and mystery of forest and field. They also happen to be some of the best eating around if you'...
Last night, while I helped plate a three-course meal for 50 people in the kitchen where I work, a coworker and I started fantasizing about opening a little diner. This place would serve breakfast on the weekdays and dinner on the weekends; barbecue, crab boils, blue plate specials--generally, really good, homey food.
The irony of the situation is that, as we're talking about this, we're plating wagyu tri-tip steaks and mahi mahi on a bed of wild mushrooms. Fancy food can be fun to work with. I've certainly encountered ingredients and techniques that are totally new to me. But the food I love, from the bottom of my heart (or stomach, as the case may be), is often the simplest. Like really good bread with butter and homemade jam. Or chicken roasted with vegetables underneath.
And I'm certainly not alone. While the restaurant serves things like "Smoked Baby Beets, Buttermilk & Goat Crème, Muscatel Vinaigrette, Charred Pecans" and "Herb Stuffed Trout, Grilled Asparagus, Toasted Farro, Meyer Lemon Beurre Blanc," the two most popular dishes on the menu are the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens, and the butterscotch pudding--both things that your grandmother probably made.
Part of the appeal is probably nostalgia. But more than that, simple food just tastes good without a lot of fuss.
It's kind of a thrill to take very simple ingredients and transform them into something ineffably delicious and homey. No feats of modernist magic. No hard-to-find ingredients or expensive accoutrements. Just really remarkable food.
For this St. Patrick's Day, we looked to the cabbage for inspiration. Cabbage is such an unassuming vegetable that it's easy to overlook in favor of more eye-catching produce, but it's one of my favorite brassicas. Growing up, I ate it stewed or fermented into sauerkraut, but there are plenty of ways to approach cabbage. We love it finely shredded into a green salad or roasted in wedges. Its leaves can be stuffed with all manner of good things, and it's hearty enough for braising.
In this instance, though, we tweaked an old JOY recipe and made a cabbage gratin. The original recipe has you boil the shredded cabbage to soften it, but we prefer to sauté it. It's a more flavorful, less waterlogged method. The final dish is a lovely burnished thing, scented with toasted caraway and cardamom. Be sure to bake it long enough to get the cheese good and crusty. This is definitely a blue plate special sort of dish--simple, delicious, and unabashedly easy.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.
Dust the dish with:
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Heat in a large sauté pan over medium heat:
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
When the pan is hot, add and sauté until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes:
1 leek, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and chopped
Add and sauté until tender and most of the liquid has cooked off:
6 cups shredded cabbage (about 1 pound)
Meanwhile, whisk together in a large bowl:
1 cup cream or whole milk
1/2 cup grated Swiss, Comté, or Gruyère cheese
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted
(1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom)
(Pinch grated nutmeg)
Add the cooked cabbage, pour into the baking dish, and cover the top with:
1/4 cup grated Swiss, Comté, or Gruyère cheese
Bake until golden on top, 40 to 50 minutes.