I arrived home from Botswana to full-on fall. No matter how how much of a jaded, ungrateful traveller I become, I don’t think the whole other-side-of-the-planet thing will ever get old. One day, you’re sweating it out in the southern part of the African continent, in the country that is seventy percent Kalahari Desert, in a city that gets eleven inches of rain per year. After thirty hours hurtling around in metal tubes, you begin descent into the mid-Atlantic U.S., the first pops of orange and red flashing up at you from the ground. Stepping out of the airport, your hair curls from the damp. It smells like dead leaves. A hurricane is coming. What a world.
There were hints of it before I left, the garden slowing down, the train ride in the mornings becoming darker, but the perennial harbinger of autumn for us is the grape harvest.
The calendar is a solid-booked schedule of long days. For Ben, this is the Main Event, the thing he’s been working for all year. Harvest is punctuated by little rituals: we’re up even earlier than normal, taking care of morning chores by the beam of a headlamp in the wee hours, a strange pre-dawn vigil (the ducks hate this; they must think we’re some kind of scary bioluminescent raccoon come to kill them all—they wake up and start running into themselves and the walls, it’s horrible). There are particular playlists, for when you just need to rock out while you’re cleaning barrels. Beers at the end of a long day. Last year Ben made t-shirts for the crew with totally inappropriate jokes about maiming yourself on farm equipment. We develop “harvest palate”, a taste for juice that has just barely started fermenting into wine, sweet and fizzy and cloudy and just slightly alcoholic.
With harvest on the brain and temperatures dropping, I’ve been feeling the shift in what I want to eat. Long-cooked actually sounds appealing, after a summer of eating mostly tomatoes. I’ve been braising greens with wine for easy dinner with eggs and bread. The recipe is a bit like this kale skillet, but the substantial pour of wine in the braising liquid makes them stand out, with some nice fruity flavor coming through.
The swing of seasons feels really good after a long summer, and I’m grateful for it. We have the windows wide open and the cool air rolling in. I am pouring more wine. Here’s hoping there’s something good to be toasting about wherever you are.
I have used tuscan kale and green cabbage for this recipe, but am looking forward to trying this with red cabbage soon. It makes excellent if not necessarily visually appealing leftovers, especially piled on garlicky toast.
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 1 red onion or 2 shallots, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and roughly chopped
- 1-2 pounds of cabbage-y or leafy greens, whether kale, red or green cabbage, or collards, de-stemmed if necessary, and roughly chopped into about 1 inch pieces
- 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth/stock
- 1 cup Chardonnay or other white wine
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Parmigiano, for serving
- In a wide, heavy bottomed skillet or other pan, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the onion or shallots and cook, stirring, until they begin to lose structure and become transparent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring, another 1-2 minutes, until fragrant but not browned.
- Add the greens, working in batches if necessary, stirring with the onions and garlic and coating with a bit of oil. They will get shiny and cook down a little.
- After all the greens are in the pan, add the stock and the wine, along with a healthy few pinches of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a rapid simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced down and just coats the bottom of the pan. This will take 10-15 minutes. The greens will reduce substantially in size. Remove from heat.
- Taste for seasoning and correct if necessary. Service dusted with freshly grated parmigiano.