On Saturday I cooked dinner for about 80 people. It was a fundraiser, and it went pretty well. The food was well received, it seems, and in typical fashion I made way too much of it. So the fridge has been packed to the gills, brimming with giant, awkward vessels of chickpea tagine, braised cabbage, and polenta for a few days now, and I’ve been working through it as imaginatively as I can. Sunday night, for example, we had a couple of friends over (they’ve been cleaning out their flood-totalled house and clearly needed a home-cooked meal) and I grilled a hunk of lamb, reheating all of the above for sides and grilling the firm slabs of polenta for good measure. I also made a wonderful mash out of frisée, walnuts, garlic, and oil, plus again as much basil pesto that needed eating.
And it was good. But imaginative? Not so much. For whatever reason, though, today I had an idea that did qualify, and which enabled me to consolidate the cabbage into a much smaller container. The fridge is almost back to normal and we ate well.
Back when we first moved to Brooklyn, we lived in Greenpoint. This was before the massive hipster overflow from Williamsburg transformed much of the social and retail fabric of the neighborhood into an extension of that overrated zone, so it was still very Polish. From an authenticity point of view, it afforded a real experience of a largely undiluted immigrant community. (I remember once after two years there I got a haircut from a woman who spoke no English; she said “Regular?” when I sat down, and I tried vainly to explain what I wanted, and she gave me a horrible high and tight sort of thing. Immediately everyone in the neighborhood began speaking to me in Polish: it was like the secret handshake of tragic haircuts. I looked like a tool). Tonsorial trauma aside, from a culinary point of view, Greenpoint back then was kind of a nightmare. Apart from a couple of good Thai places, the restaurants were pretty dire. There were a couple of stores that ran the gamut from dismal to semi-dismal, and there was one good but expensive health/gourmet store, so the grocery pickings were slim. I shudder to think what we made do with back then.
The one thing we enjoyed, though, were the pierogis. We bought them frozen at a store around the corner: potato, mushroom, and cabbage. (The cheese ones were sweetened and vile). We’d simmer them and eat them with applesauce and sour cream. We weren’t alone; our local friends did the same and the best gallery in Williamsburg back then was called Pierogi. Sometimes we’d go out for brunch at a place down the road and get the full treatment, though it was usually after a night of heavy drinking. (Heavy for us, that is; the guys passed out face down in the park would have laughed at us if they had been conscious).
I have been thinking about fresh pasta lately, and due to the trough of braised cabbage I had a lightbulb moment and figured out how to combine the two. I made a quick pasta dough and let it rest while I put some beets into the pressure cooker. Then I rolled it out into sheets using the pasta machine, stamping circles with a cutter, and making the scraps into a ball that I ran through again to minimize waste. Because the cutter is not so big, I opted for stacking circle upon circle rather than folding each into a half moon shape; I wanted to be able to get enough filling in there so the ratio between pasta and cabbage would be right.
The beets came out, and got dressed with blackcurrant vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley, and scallions. I though the vinegar was a nice touch both because it played so very well with the earthy sweetness of beets and also resonated appropriately with the Slavic nature of the meal; currant juice and syrup were ubiquitous in Greenpoint’s stores and delis. I opened a jar of last year’s applesauce, and we had procured some sour cream in anticipation.
These were really good. I should make them more often, and next time honestly I’ll just roll them out with a pin and stamp them with a big glass so I can fold them over. But despite the effort, I enjoyed every part of this–from the efficient dispatching of excessive leftovers to the tangy, chewy morsels well-lubricated with sweet sauce and sour cream and bolstered by sweet-sour beets with brightly verdant accents. This meal sang. I’m actually thinking of making more braised cabbage so I can make more of these and freeze them for lazy winter evenings or hungover Sunday mornings. Just like in the old country.