Somewhere deep within me is a German harrumphing to get out. Whenever the weather turns cold, my thoughts turn to pork sausages, apples, cabbage, potatoes and chestnuts. This is odd, because we don't usually cook meat at our house, and 40% of my household won't eat it.
But every now and then, my German genes erupt. My great grandfather Gunter was born in Australia to German immigrants. He was a stern and arrogant man who owned a butcher's shop, and was deeply offended when his daughter, Constance, married below her station; she wed Bill the apprentice. Grandfather Gunter did his best to make their marriage a misery, and I am told he largely succeeded. His own marriages were nothing to smile at, either. He wed three times, each time to a Mary; the first two Marys predeceased him. My grandmother was the daughter of the middle Mary.
Grandpa Gunter loved to save a penny. He knew every bend and dip in the road between Katanning, his home town in the West Australian wheat belt, and Perth; and would coast for miles to save on fuel. He put the money he saved into a big house on the riverbank in Perth, and towards his annual holiday to Melbourne to watch the Cup.
And that's about all I know. It's not much of a heritage to go on, but it's enough – enough, at least, to justify the fact that every now and then I absolutely must grill sausages (pork for 60% of the family, soy for the sorry 40%); mash a heap of potatoes; stew some apples; and fry up some cabbage in some sort of porky-Germanic-homage.
This week was one of those times. In the fridge was a lovely local Savoy cabbage and chestnuts from a friend's farm. Inspired by a variation on a red cabbage-and-apple-thingy in Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion, and a Brussels-sprouts-and-chestnut thingy we love from Nigella Lawson's Feast, I thought we could make a Savoy-cabbage-and-apple-and-chestnut-thingy of our own. So I sautéed half a small Savoy cabbage in butter until it was glossy, threw in a couple of handfuls of cooked chestnuts and a dash of apple cider vinegar; and when the chestnuts were warm I mixed through some chunky apple sauce. With mashed potatoes, a good pork sausage, and rain falling steadily outside, dinner, and life, was perfekt!
Cabbage with Chestnuts and Apples
- 300g fresh chestnuts in their shells, to make about 200g chestnut meats
First, prepare the chestnuts (These instructions are taken straight from the recipe for Chestnut and Celeriac Soup; if you know how to do it, skip to the double asterisk(**).) (I usually prepare the chestnuts a night or two ahead, after dinner, and store the chestnut meats in the refrigerator until I am ready to cook them.) Hold a chestnut flat side down on a sturdy chopping board. Place the tip of a sharp knife at the top of the nut, and lever it downwards so that the nut is bisected from top to bottom, but the knife does not cut through the shell on the flat side. Place the chestnut into a bowl. When all the chestnuts have been treated thus, place the bowl of chestnuts into the freezer for ten minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. When the ten minutes is up, remove the chestnuts from the freezer and slide them into the rapidly boiling water. Boil for eight minutes, then turn the heat down low. Remove several chestnuts from the water with a slotted spoon, and quickly pop each nut half out of its shell and skin (or peel it). Continue until you have liberated all the nuts. Work fast, because as the nut cools the skin reattaches itself very firmly.
If one or two chestnuts will not easily relinquish the inner skin, just sacrifice a little chestnut and slice it off rather than send yourself batty trying to peel it. Now the chestnuts are ready, and here you can pause for a day or two to suck your scalded fingers and recover, or, bless your soul, continue.
**Warm a walnut sized knob of butter in a wide skillet. Add the cabbage and sauté briskly, stirring, until the cabbage goes glossy. Add a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar (or sherry), and cook until the liquid has reduced, mere seconds. Add the chestnuts and apple sauce, and warm through.
Very nice by itself or with potatoes, but for the ultimate experience, add a good pork sausage!
(Local: chestnuts, cabbage, apples, apple cider vinegar. Not always local: butter, sherry, salt.)