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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Savoy cabbage and potatoes with pesto


I just returned from a trip to Montreal, where I was visiting my friend Wendy. She has moved to Montreal from Maine for a year with her three young children, and they are all learning to speak la francais in earnest! Her youngest is just a little older than my four-year-old, Meredith—who has almost as much fun playing with Wendy’s kids as I do talking and catching up with Wendy!

When we visit Wendy, I always insist on cooking the dinners. As altruistic as this may sound, I have a selfish motive for playing chef de cuisine. I dote on my farmers’ market here in Anchorage, but I love nothing more than exploring other markets. And if I’m cooking the meals, I get to bring home whatever I want: loads of local vegetables and fruits—especially celebrating things we can’t grow here in Anchorage! In Montreal, I bought satchels-full of beautiful ears of corn, sweet Delicata squash, long braids of garlic, softball-sized celeriac (celery root), and of course reveled in basket after basket of tart, delicious apples and flavorful local pears.

So, what to cook? Here’s the design brief for my menus du jour.

1. We stayed for a week in Wendy’s beautiful, light-filled and cozy apartment. The one slight drawback to this delightful living space is that the kitchen is a bit, shall we say, petite. There’s almost no counter space, and Wendy has wisely excluded kitchen equipment like her blender. So I wanted the meals to be pretty simple in terms of vegetable prep. Delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, then baked until tender and spiked with a touch of maple syrup? Nothing much easier (or more magnifique) than that!

2. We did lots of fun, mellow things with the kids while we were there (like walking to the neighborhood playgrounds, swimming in their apartment building’s pool, and going to the library), which meant there wasn’t a lot of time to be cooking, either. Add to that a nice early bedtime for all the kids, and there’s just not a good opportunity for a long-simmered vegetable potage or bean stew. So another criteria was speed. Corn on the cob in three minutes? Mais oui!

3. And last, I tried to make the meals kid-friendly, to offer everyone a bon appétit! I was so happy when Wendy’s kids loved the garlic-roasted broccoli, and cheered when they were willing to try something new, like the oven-roasted turnip and celeraic slices!

I also wanted to teach Wendy the best of my easy recipes from cooking this summer’s Alaskan produce. And she just happened to have a little box of waxy potatoes (some purple, some white) dug by her husband Mike from their Maine garden! Tres bon! And the Savoy cabbages at the Montreal market were so big and beautiful, I just had to show her one of my new favorite recipes: Savoy cabbage and potatoes with pesto. Since we could buy prepared pesto at the shop near the farmers’ market, the dish definitely met the first two criteria for simple prep and speedy cooking… Voila! It was ready! But did it meet the last condition for family-friendliness? I really have no idea, because I was too busy scarfing down three plates-full after a long run through the beautiful Parc Mont-Royale. I guess I’d say that the dish has a certain je ne sais quoi


Savoy cabbage and potatoes with pesto

I was inspired to invent this recipe when reading a letter from my friend Andi, who recommended a recipe from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table. She adds broccoli and a potato to her pasta with pesto, and calls it “the King of pestos.” I had a beautiful Savoy cabbage in my refrigerator, aching to be eaten, and I had a brainwave that thin slices of cabbage would be fun to toss with pesto sauce, like spaghetti noodles! You can eat this on top of spaghetti, if you like, but I like it best just by itself—no noodles or Parmesan cheese, but just the potatoes added to the cabbage for heartiness. I think you’ll love the taste of the garlicky, sautéed cabbage with the pesto!

You can use commercially prepared pesto if you like—that does save a lot of time and effort. But I’ve included a couple of my pesto recipes, in case you have the time and desire to make your own. I use both the basil version and the parsley version—both are very nice. You’ll need to be more heavy-handed with the parsley pesto than the basil pesto, because it’s not quite as pungent and flavorful as the basil. The parsley pesto is still delicious, though, in its own right! And it’s quite a bit more economical, too, since parsley is generally a lot more affordable than basil.

Please note that the pesto recipes are for making big batches and then freezing flat in ziplock bags. If you’re just making pesto for this recipe, just make about one-third of a batch.

3 to 4 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (Butterballs, for example, or purple potatoes for a fun color contrast)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium Savoy cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into ¼-inch slices
sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly-ground pepper
Pesto (make one of the following recipes, or use prepared pesto)

1. Drop the potatoes into boiling, lightly salted water. Cook until tender, 5-7 minutes. Drain the potatoes, but reserve the cooking water.
2. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic for a minute in the olive oil over medium-high heat, until fragrant, then add the cabbage strands. Add ½ teaspoon salt and saute until wilted and just tender. You may have to add a little water to keep the cabbage and garlic from sticking. Taste for more salt and add more as needed, plus some pepper. 
3. Scoop about ½ cup of the basil pesto (or ¾ cup of parsley pesto) into the bottom of a big pasta bowl. If the pesto is stiff, add a little hot potato water to thin the sauce to the consistency of heavy cream. Toss the cabbage with the pesto, then add the potato and toss again. Taste to see if you want to add more pesto. Add salt as needed, and serve, topped with freshly-ground pepper.

Basil Pesto
This makes a lot—about three times more than you need, so you can freeze the rest, if you like.

6 large cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
6 packed cups fresh basil leaves
10 tablespoons pine nuts
12-14 tablespoons best quality extra-virgin olive oil

1. In a food processor, chop the garlic with the salt.
2. Add the basil leaves and puree them.
3. Then add the pine nuts and process into a rough paste.
4. Add half of the olive oil, process again until as smooth as you can get it. Even if it’s not terribly smooth, it’ll still taste great!
5. Taste for salt, and add more as needed.
6. Scoop into 3 freezer ziploc bags and freeze them flat on a baking sheet.

Parsley Pesto
This recipe also makes more than you’ll need for the cabbage and potatoes, but you can very easily freeze the extra!

2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
4 cups packed parsley leaves
½ cup pine nuts
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1. In a food processor, chop the garlic with the salt.
2. Add the parsley leaves and pine nuts, and turn on the motor, beginning to grind the parsley. It’s OK if all the leaves aren’t incorporated yet.
3. While the motor is running, pour in the olive oil gradually. Let the blade run for a while to puree the mixture. It won’t be very smooth, but it’s hard to get the parsley pesto smooth, anyway—the leaves are kind of tough. 
4. Taste for salt, and add more as needed.
5. Use what you’d like for tonight’s dinner, then scoop the rest into a freezer ziploc bag and freeze flat.

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