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Dressing Up Ordinary Fare

January 16, 1986|ANNE WILLAN | Willan, a cooking teacher and author, is founder and president of La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. She lives in Washington. and

Even in winter the display in the local supermarket is lavish. It was inspiration to me for a dinner in winter for eight. Recently, as my eyes wandered from shiitake mushrooms to uglis and Singapore star fruit, it was hard to detect the humble cabbage amid such abundance.

Yet what is wrong with commoners like cabbage, carrots, onions, rutabagas and the much maligned potato? Pears and apples in January must surely be better than imported strawberries that have traveled thousands of miles. Plain old parsley beats dried tarragon and basil any day.

One day I toured the market deliberately collecting ordinary ingredients that tend to be ignored. Refreshingly low-priced, the challenge is to combine them with a touch of originality.

Starting with white winter cabbage, I assembled a hearty soup based on chicken broth and flavored with bacon and caraway. Sprinkled with cheese and browned under the broiler, a large bowl makes an ample meal in itself.

At the meat counter, beef was the obvious choice. This recipe for braised beef, paired with the assertive flavor of a mustard cream sauce and flanked by pearl onions and garlic cloves roasted whole in the oven, can claim Flemish ancestry.

What could be more commonplace than apples and bread? And this dessert combines the two in a version of the traditional French apple charlotte, served hot or cold with a fruit sauce. Bread slices are dipped in butter to line a skillet that is filled with stiff, well-flavored apple puree. After baking in the oven the bread toasts to a crisp brown. Outmoded? Not at all. These days bread and butter pudding appears beside sorbet and snow eggs on the most avant-garde of American tables.

DINNER IN WINTER FOR 8 Cabbage Soup With Caraway Braised Beef Flamande Buttered carrots or red cabbage Skillet Apple Bread Pudding Dried Apricot Sauce Suggested drink: Imported ale or fruity white wine such as imported or domestic Gewurtztraminer or Muscat. A perfect schedule for the busy cook, this menu contains dishes that can be prepared up to three days ahead and reheated for serving.

Up to three days ahead make cabbage soup, then refrigerate. Braise beef, wrap in foil, then refrigerate. Refrigerate sauce and garnish separately. Bake apple pudding, leave in skillet, then refrigerate. Make apricot sauce, then refrigerate.

One hour before serving, chill wine. Set table.

Thirty minutes before serving, place beef in oven to reheat.

Ten minutes before serving, if serving apple pudding hot, place in oven to reheat.

Light broiler. Reheat soup on top of stove, add cheese, broil, then serve.

After serving soup lower oven heat. Keep pudding warm. Reheat sauce and garnish for beef on top of stove. Slice beef, add garnish and sauce, then serve.

After serving beef, if serving pudding hot, reheat apricot sauce on top of stove. Unmold pudding, then serve.


1 pound head white cabbage

1/4 pound bacon, diced

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced

1 small potato, peeled and finely diced

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, about

1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed

Salt, pepper

1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Finely shred cabbage, discarding stem and thick stalks. Saute bacon in casserole until lightly browned. Discard excess fat. Add onion and saute, stirring constantly, until tender but not brown. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in chicken stock and bring to boil. Add cabbage, carrot, potato, vinegar and caraway seeds. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning, adding salt, pepper and vinegar as needed. Soup can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated.

To complete, heat broiler. Bring soup to boil on top of stove. Spoon soup into 8 deep heatproof soup bowls. Sprinkle with cheese. Set bowls on baking sheet. Place under broiler until cheese melts and browns. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

Note: For main course soup, add more bacon and few slices of spicy cooked sausage.


1 calf's or pig's foot, split, optional


5 to 6 pounds boneless beef pot roast, rolled and tied

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups white wine

2 cups beef stock, about

2 bay leaves

Salt, pepper

1/4 pound garlic heads, divided in cloves, peeled

1 1/2 pounds pearl onions, peeled

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Bunch watercress

Blanch calf's or pig's foot by placing in cold water and boiling 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large casserole. Brown beef on all sides very thoroughly over high heat. Remove and reserve. Reduce heat. Add sliced onion and brown, stirring constantly. Stir in flour and cook until it begins to brown, about 1 minute. Stir in wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add stock, bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste and beef. Place calf's foot down beside meat.

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