Good grief are those spring breakers I see hanging out along the bike path here at the beach dressed in their expensive “casual” Ralph Lauren togs? Yellows and bright greens, shorts and tees accented I’m sure in chill bumps.
After all it is really just early March in Northern Florida and while the sun can be toasty around noon it is down right chilly for us wimps once those glorious sunsets we are so fortunate to experience give way to nighttime.
“Do your parents know you are outside in clusters leaning on your rented bikes dressed in flip flops, skimpy slogan riddled tee shirts and shorts?” I want to ask a group of young people who have taken up residency on a neighborhood corner.
Never mind that I nearly froze-to-death in Publix’s dairy aisle moments before. What are they thinking…it’s summer? This in reference to my quick stop on my way from work to pick up the last of the winter veggies which are available all year long now that the world has gone flat (see Thomas Friedman about that phrase).
My wife is a big fan of Brussel sprouts and I like to cook up cabbage perfumed with a spray can of Refreshing Citrus Aroma since cabbage and sprouts have a distinct smell most notably when you open your front door to come in or step into the kitchen or step into most rooms in your house.
My mom used to make a great Cabbage Soup. I believe my paternal grandmother, who influenced my mother’s cooking since her mother had the good fortune to have a housekeeper, (reference “The Help”) could only make Chicken Fricassee and how much of that can you consume before starting to cluck?
We really do make a serious effort to eat healthy and take a surreptitious route around the peripheral of the supermarket hitting the fresh veggies and fruits and staying out of the canned goods aisles as often as possible.
Hence coming face-to-face with old man winter in the frozen tundra of the Dairy Section. Geez even the frozen foods are safely behind insulated glass.
Interestingly enough I remember when the first stalks of asparagus arrived in time for Easter-Passover Season. Now you can have green or white asparagus whenever should you have the available cash to afford them?
Sweet onions similar to Vidalias are around too Colorful peppers and fruits from South America make the scene as well. A trip to the market is a true International experience. It’s a bit like “sweep week” on the Travel and Food Channels. The hits just keep coming.
All the drama aside, I picked one of the smaller of the green cabbages which is no small feat since they grow like they had a serious thyroid problem. I added a bunch of carrots, picked up a fat sweet onion, remembered I had a large can of diced tomatoes on the shelf at home along with a bit of fresh celery tops plus a few small stalks I had judiciously saved in the back of my refrigerator crisper along with some baking potatoes for just such an occasion.
I was set, so I made my way home thinking all the while how I would slice, dice and prepare my main entrée aka winter veggie ratatouille. The answer was no big deal. I simply layered my veggies in my favorite cast iron baking dish adding several fresh diced cloves of garlic as I went along.
I set my oven on 250 wrapped the top of the casserole in aluminum foil and put it into the oven to slow roast. I toyed with the idea of topping the dish with a part skim mozzarella cheese at the last minute and running it under the broiler.
I decided instead that a non-fat sour cream topping would be quite acceptable. (Think harsh Russian winters after the revolution or the dairy case at Publix) As for the cheese, I’ll save that number for special guests and have a block of sharp cheddar and sour dough or dark pumpernickel bread to round out the simple but hearty fare instead.
Meanwhile I won’t be throwing empty vodka glasses in the fireplace. Really? However I will be enjoying a Pinot Grigio although this dish could stand up to a red on the order of a Shiraz.
If you are a vegetarian or simply enjoy a main dish sans meat then this type of meal is perfect. Or you can do as I did with the left over casserole. I had a thick piece of fish, Basa a rather bland type of catfish to be exact, that I discovered in my freezer.
I sautéed the fish in olive oil and topped it with my leftover veggie casserole. It was quite tasty and would make a great party dish as well using spring veggies instead. Whatever the season and whatever the reason bon appetite.
WINTER VEGGIE RATATOUILLE
1 small head cabbage outer layers pulled off then cut into quarters and separated
1 small sweet onion sliced into rings
Half pound baby carrots or if using large carrots cut into rounds
3-4 stalks celery sliced into chunks plus their tops
1 can (33 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 red pepper cut first into strips then chunked
2 medium baking potatoes peeled and quartered
Couple of bay leaves tucked into the veggies but remember to fish out before serving
2 or 3 cloves of garlic peeled and diced but whole cloves added to the dish would be acceptable as well
Note: I like my veggies to be quartered because I want them showy when presented
Baked the casserole at 250 until most of the juices have evaporated by checking occasionally and mashing the veggies down to extract the juice but don’t drain as the slow baking process will cause the veggies to absorb those juices making the ratatouille awesome
Let cool and store overnight. Reheat and correct seasonings.
Serve with sour cream on the side.