Some people have a shopping problem, some struggle with a chocolate addiction, and still others nurse a coffee habit. Anthony and I have a local produce problem.
This love of local goodies is not that big a deal when we’re home. We know the little old ladies who make jam, we know the ex-businessman who raises honeybees, and we love the farmers who grow our CSA produce. We’ve got a pork guy, a beef guy, and a goat guy. We have yogurt, butter, and milk ladies. We know it’s okay to pick up our usual ingredients and occasionally succumb to those precious little peppers, that rare sour cherry jam, or that sinfully rich, farm-fresh chocolate milk.
But we also know we’re going to see these folks next week, so sometimes…it’s okay to pass. It’s hard, but it’s possible (and usually involves me physically dragging Anthony to the car). Most importantly, however, when we are home we have a place to store our little treasures.
When we go on vacation, though, this little produce problem becomes a big one. To start, our fridge is usually full of perishable goods juuuuust as we’re preparing to leave for two weeks. Emotionally and physically unable to let anything go to waste, we dutifully pack it all into a colossal cooler. We’re the only people I know who routinely travel with bunches of kale, enormous heads of cabbage, three-day-old leftovers, pieces of citrus, limp carrots from the crisper, and the entire contents of our cheese drawer.
And yes, it’s more than a little embarrassing to show up to a friend’s house for a few days with a tiny overnight bag and a behemoth blue and white Igloo. They usually forgive us, though, when we start pulling out ingredients – Mary Poppins-style – and whipping up a good meal.
We just got back from a 10-day trip from New Haven to New York to Pennsylvania to Ohio and back, lugging that enormous cooler the whole way. When we started it was chock-full and though we cooked and cooked and cooked, it was chock-full when we got home. Why? Because when we’re in East Podunkville, Penn., and we see a charming antique truck vending organic, homegrown produce we think: “WE WILL NEVER BE HERE AGAIN! WE MUST SAMPLE THESE TOMATOES!!!!” And when we’re in West Nowhere, Ohio, and we see a road-side cooler of eggs sold on the honor system, Anthony rips an illegal U-Turn and we are compelled to buy two dozen. I could go on, but Mom and Maggy might get more material for that intervention they must be planning.
When we lugged that cooler into our apartment last night and began unloading our newly purchased goods, I came upon a bag of cabbage that had traveled all 1,406 miles with us and hadn’t been used. We must have packed and unpacked it 10 times in the last 10 days. I was so sick of looking at it, that I decreed it had be dinner…TONIGHT! And it was. And it was SO SO good.
Porktastic Cabbage & Kielbasa
Since pork sausage tends to be very lean these days, we started this dish by cooking up some bacon and browned the sausage in the drippings (yum!). This step is optional, but highly recommended! If you prefer not to use bacon, you can substitute a drizzle of olive oil. Try to use the best pork products available – the better the bacon and sausage, the better this dish is.
2 slices thick-cut bacon
1-1/2 lbs. kielbasa, cut at a slight diagonal into 1/2-inch slices
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup beer (anything will do) [editor's note: see disclaimer]
1/4 cup mustard, preferably spicy brown or deli-style
1 bay leaf
3 lbs. green cabbage, sliced
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Salt and Pepper
In a Dutch oven or large soup kettle set over low heat, fry the bacon until it is very crisp and the fat has rendered. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Remove all but 2 tablespoon of the bacon fat and increase the heat to medium-high. Working in batches, sautée the sausage until brown on both sides. Remove and set aside.
Add the onions and carrots and sautée until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, rosemary, pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste; continue to cook until fragrant, about another minute. Add the beer, mustard, and bay leaf and stir to combine. Return the sausage to the pot, crumble in the bacon, and simmer to develop flavor, 2-3 minutes. Add the cabbage and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf, stir in the cider vinegar, and season again with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot with big hunks of bread to sop up the delicious sauce!
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