Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Tag: cabbage

In the Beginning, There Was Butter

by lyzpfister

bagna cauda

“You start with nine sticks of butter,” my aunt says, giving me the recipe for a dish which, at the end of its life, will contain fourteen sticks. Her voice is a Florida twang, an accent no one else in my family seems to have picked up as strongly, though when I am with her, I find my own vowels stretching out. I becomes Ah, as though I’ve been stuck into a Twilight Zone dentist’s office and every personal statement is a chance to glance at my sweet tea-ravaged cavities.

“This is the easy way, but the real way is, you’re going to want to chop up about three things of garlic – at least.” Except it sounds like, Yer gunna wunna

My aunt is referring not to cloves of garlic, but to heads, because this is the famed family recipe for banyacotta, which is the phonetic spelling for a dish which is actually a famed Italian recipe called bagna cauda. The recipe is basically the same. But I think my family uses more butter.

minced garlic and anchovies

Banyacotta is a familial rite of passage. Lovers, fiancés, new spouses, children – you’re not a part of the family until you’ve eaten banyacotta. This is mostly due to the fact that for a full two days after eating it, you trail the scent of garlic behind you thicker than Pepe le Pew on an amour trail. It is imperative, for this reason, that everyone in the family partake, so that we don’t notice our stench, naïvely wandering through the world in our own little garlic reek.

For a long time, I had no idea that banyacotta was not just something that had been handed down in my family from generation to generation. All of the friends I told about the dish – it’s a dip of butter, garlic, and anchovies and you eat it on cabbage – were disgusted (but then again, that isn’t quite the favorite foods lists of an eight year old). No one else had even heard of the concoction.

cabbage for dipping

One day, while I was perusing a food magazine, I found a recipe for bagna cauda. The recipe called for butter, anchovies, and garlic… and I thought… this sounds a lot like banyacotta… And when I sounded it out in Italian I realized, oh my God. This is banyacotta. My family just can’t spell.

Regardless, this is tradition, and my aunt still makes her banyacotta (sorry, the spelling stays…) in my Great Aunt Dorothy’s electric skillet. At one point, the Davis clan used to add cream – which is also a part of the original Italian recipe – but somewhere along the lines, the cream was lost, and what now remains is a giant pile of melted butter, six cans of salty anchovies, and four heads of minced garlic simmered into a rich, salty mess.

bagna cauda

white bread plates

When the banyacotta is done, my family huddles around the pot. We each grab a cabbage leaf and dunk it in. Some prefer the garlic-infused butter from the top which just slightly wilts the cabbage – others scrape the bottom for anchovy-laden scoops studded with garlic. For plates we use slices of white bread, and after we’ve eaten as much cabbage leaves as we can, we eat the bread, soaked through with butter.

bagna cauda

Don’t tell anyone, but this is what I really came back to America for. Butter, garlic, salt – and a reminder that I’m part of the family.

Banyacotta

This makes a lot of banyacotta – and let’s hope it does, or else that’s a lot of butter shoveled through your arteries at once. My aunt freezes any leftover banyacotta and slices off pats to melt on top of a hot-off-the-grill steak. I add fresh parsley and capers and toss it with cooked pasta for a quick dinner (provided I’m not going anywhere later that night…)

14 sticks unsalted butter (give or take)
6 cans anchovies
4 heads finely chopped garlic
2 heads of cabbage leaves (Napa or bok choy), whole but removed from core
1 loaf of thinly sliced artisan white bread

In an electric skillet set to 200°, melt 9 sticks of butter. Keep a close watch on the temperature to make sure your butter doesn’t start browning. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn the heat lower. When the foam has started to clear from the top of the butter, add your chopped garlic. Take care that your garlic doesn’t burn. If you’ve burned the garlic, the banyacotta is ruined, as is the world. Throw it out and start over. Better yet, don’t burn your garlic.

Add anchovies whole, scattering evenly around the skillet. They’ll break down on their own. Increase the temperature to a low simmer – but if the bubbles get too high, turn it down. There’s a good chance that at this point, you’ll need to add more butter to the skillet. If your mixture looks a little chunky, add 3 more sticks of butter. Either way, you can do no wrong. If I learned one thing from my aunt, it’s that you can never have enough butter.

After you’ve added the anchovies, be sure to let the whole mix simmer for about 10 minutes (the whole process should take about 15-20 minutes). Don’t let the butter bubble too much – but don’t let the temperature get so low that it doesn’t bubble at all. Give it a slow and thorough stir every now and then.

ideal butter bubbling

When you’re ready to eat, dip cabbage leaves into the banyacotta and eat over slices of white bread. Be sure to finish your plate. Literally. Your plate is white bread. Keep the banyacotta simmering on about as low as you can go for another couple hours while you go have real dinner (something like… caramelized ham, corn puddin’, tomato puddin’, mac & cheese, and pot roast… or something), then come back and have some more for dessert.

corn and tomato puddin' count as vegetables in my family

Before you freeze the rest, melt the remaining sticks of butter into the skillet to even out the proportions and better prep you for a heart attack.

Advertisements

Slaw That

by lyzpfister

Speak to me wonders, oh cabbage slaw. Your rings, wound and crenellated round a core. Sliceable, screaming of spring. Fit for kings, yet cheap enough to make poor men sing. Cabbage, cabbage, speak to me divine things.

As we tentatively dive into spring, I find myself increasingly drawn to greener things and (clearly also) 18th century romantic poetry which inspires me to write extravagant and rather ode-ish sentences to cabbage.

Nothing wrong with that. Cabbage is great.

Cabbage gets a bad rep for being cheap and one-dimensional, but I would like to do a little salvaging on behalf of the image. Cabbage is versatile. Main ingredient in stir-frys and slaws, stew-filler, a hull for ground beef and spices. A pinch of crispness in a rice salad or the vinegary tang topping a pulled pork sandwich. And the types of cabbage – there’s red cabbage, green cabbage, Chinese cabbage, Savoy, Napa, bok choy – and here in Germany, I’ve discovered yet another lovely variety called Sptizkraut.

It’s a spitzkraut I’m working with today, a baby one about the size of a kitten with smooth, light green skin. It squeaks apart as I cut it into perfect rings with my knife.

The fresh, green foods I crave in spring mean my meals all take a healthy bent – not a bad thing, considering my cooking habits in Germany have inclined towards excessive use of butter and heavy whipping cream during this past winter. But as usual, I haven’t been grocery shopping in a while, and all I have in the fridge is this cabbage and some chiles, some slim pickings of condiments.

Though to make a springtime lunch, that’s all you need. Dijon mustard and farmer’s cheese spread thickly on freshly toasted bread, topped with a simple slaw of cabbage, red onions, and chiles – the dressing no more than rice wine vinegar, grainy mustard, lemon juice, sriracha, mirin, honey, salt, black pepper, and garlic.

I eat my open-faced sandwich, I’ll make a cup of coffee and sit in the kitchen letting the sunlight in through the windows, pretending its warmer than it really is. Read a magazine. Let the lightness carry me away. Oh cabbage, oh cabbage.

Summer Lunch

by lyzpfister

Partly because it’s unbearably hot everywhere in New York and partly because I’ve been ridiculously busy, I haven’t really been cooking much, writing much, or even eating much.  I’ve made pilgrimages to my favorites, Roberta’s and the Tortilleria, tried out new places like Taïm for falafels and the Shake Shack (more on that lovely experience later) for burgers and concretes, but for the most part, I’m living on ice pops, toast, and cold beer.

But since it’s only 88 today in Brooklyn and because I want to celebrate the lease I just signed, I decided to make a sandwich.  A sandwich is very rarely inappropriate.  There are sandwiches bursting with lettuce and avocados for summer or fresh paninis with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.  For winter, there are concoctions of melted cheese and sweet onions.  Olives, feta, roast beef, eggplant, actually anything can find a home between two slices of bread.  Bread like a blanket.  Bread like your mother’s arms or puppies or unexpected gifts.  Bread the panacea.

I find a nub of cabbage in the fridge.  I think it’s over a month old, but with the outer layer cut off, it’s still crisp and fresh inside.  Cabbage, hardworking and versatile, resilient, maligned as famine food, but good in times of plenty, also.  I dress it with tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, and lime, drape it over two slices of toast and top with slivers of chicken breast.  I wish I had better bread, but a sandwich is still good on Arnold’s whole wheat pre-sliced loaf, especially when the dressing is nutty, sweet, spicy, salty, and when there is cabbage to promise that under summer’s lethargy and sweat is something fresh and full of potential waiting to be revealed.

Summer Lunch Sandwich
1 nub of green cabbage, slivered
½ carrot, ribboned
1 green onion, diced
generous splash of rice wine vinegar
1 tsp tahini
1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
½ tsp soy sauce
¼ tsp sriracha
juice of ½ lime
1 small clove garlic
salt
freshly ground black pepper
½ chicken breast
1 tsp safflower oil
dash of sesame seeds

Toss cabbage, carrots, and green onions together and douse with a generous splash of rice wine vinegar.  For the dressing, mix tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, lime, sriracha, garlic, salt, and pepper until smooth.  Blend into cabbage.  Toast two slices of bread.  Thinly slice chicken breast and sauté in safflower oil until golden.  Assemble sandwich: bread, slaw, chicken, sesame seeds, bread.