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SCRATCH SUPPER: POTATOES AND CABBAGE

Unless you live in a part of the country where things are already green and growing, March can be a long slog, food-wise. I, for one, spend a good amount of time ginning up my own interest in ingredients that are far too familiar by now. There are a number of ways in which one can do this; if you need a pep talk, take a gander at my most recent food-advice column for TakePart.com.

After writing that post, I was starving. Done for the day, I walked into the kitchen, and made myself a drink. I’m liking Old Forester these days, so that over ice, with a splash of water. And then I opened the refrigerator. I was on my own for supper, so no one to please but myself.

Easy pickings there were not—we’d been far too industrious in recycling leftovers—but there were a few staples to work with. What spoke to me that evening was a handful of little Savoy cabbages. I wrote about them a few weeks ago;  from Jim Grillo’s Northshire Farm, they have a deep sweetness that always leaves you wanting more, and so I keep a ready supply on hand. Any cabbage, though, is especially delicious this time of year, and its flavor is handily matched in the nutrition department: It contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals vitamins C, B-6, K, folate, manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. Cabbage has got your back, in other words.

I pulled my stash out of the vegetable crisper, then made a beeline for a dim, cool corner of the living room. In our New York City (a.k.a. small) apartment, that’s where our paper sack of potatoes lives. I scrubbed the dirt off a few and was ready to cook.

There are a number of picturesquely named recipes that involve potatoes and cabbage; among them are bubble and squeak, colcannon, and rumbledethumps. Those are time-honored preparations that involve leftover spuds and greens. That is all well and good, but if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself with nothing more than tricked-out mashed potatoes that still manage to be relegated to side-dish status.

What I had in mind was something much simpler. As far as I know, it doesn’t have a name and it’s not even a proper recipe—it’s just what I do. I learned it from a friend in Glasgow many years ago. And it’s not a side dish, it’s dinner.

First, you cut up as many potatoes as you have need for. Peeled or not, it’s up to you. Put them in a pot and add just enough water to barely cover them. Don’t splash in an extra inch or so, out of habit. Honestly, just barely cover them. Add some salt for good measure and cover the pot. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so things stabilize at an even simmer. Meanwhile, cut the cabbage into wedges. When the potatoes are about halfway done, break them up a bit with a fork and place the cabbage wedges on top. Season with salt and a grind or two of fresh pepper and cover the pot. By the time the potatoes are done, the steam in the pot will have reduced the cabbage to a wanton state of tenderness.

Immediately shovel however much you want into a deep bowl and add butter to taste. Or not. This last time, I found myself drawn to the pure, unembellished (well, except for the s & p) flavors of two vegetables that have nourished us for millennia. Their surprising intensity was enough for me, although if Sam had been there, I could have been sweet-talked into a fat sausage or a few slices of crisp-cooked bacon on the side. No matter what, though, you want to eat this while it is hot off the stove, taking small bites from around the edge and working from the outside in. No need to set the table; curl up on the sofa and turn on the television. Somewhere in the universe, Law and Order is on.

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