You know it’s autumn when it’s too warm to turn on the heat but too cold to keep the oven off. Since turning the oven on just for warmth is rather wasteful, I’ve been looking for things to put in it. Braising, cooking food in a small amount of liquid on the stove or in the oven, has always been my favorite style of cooking. Some of my greatest comfort foods such a boiled beef, kalbi chim, and cabbage with Polish sausage come out of the braising tradition. Braising makes rich, melting dishes that soothe your body on a chilly day.
[Pictured: Braised endives with prosciutto]
I eagerly read through a new copy of All About Braising by Molly Stevens and expected to be braising beautiful beef and pork dishes for weeks. Instead, her starting chapter on vegetables made my mouth water. I immediately tried her “World’s Best Braised Green Cabbage,” which I can testify may actually be the world’s best braised green cabbage. The dish is so simple that you don’t need a recipe. Layer wedges of cabbage in a baking dish and toss in chopped onion and carrots. Drizzle some olive oil and chicken stock over the top, then season with black pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes. Bake in a preheated 325 oven for an hour, turn the wedges over, then bake another hour. Remove the lid, increase the heat to 400, and let the liquid evaporate and cabbage brown around the edges. The result is a dish redolent of S adjectives: soft, slippery, sweet, succulent, savory, sublime. Steven’s suggestion of a dusting of crunchy sea salt on top provides a contrast to the tender cabbage that knocks the dish up to Spectacular.
I immediately moved on to braising endives with prosciutto. Call me greedy, but bitter endives halves browned in butter and braised until falling apart under crisp prosciutto must go into my mouth all at once. Those elongated layered ovals are just begging to be eaten whole, you can’t cut them in half! And the caramel-colored sauce from the butter and bit of cream helped them go right down.
[Pictured: Braised Potatoes with Leeks]
Then there were the leeks. Oh the leeks. Fragrant leeks braised until golden and translucent, with soft potatoes soaking up stock and cream to make a comforting meal all by itself. And don’t get me started on the fennel bulb recipe I see, and the beets, my god she even braises celery . . . it may be spring before I finally braise some meat. By then, my oven may finally be off. Maybe.