© Nils Weymann | Dreamstime.com
Kids will tell you they feel let down when they leave the holidays behind. But my experience as a teacher tells a different story. My students return in January refreshed, eager to tackle work that had stumped them back in December. Adults, on the other hand, recognize the change more readily. We heave a sigh of relief that the stressful season is over. We make resolutions. We start afresh.
Life can get simple again. There are fewer events cluttering the calendar. Maybe we gather around new board games on peaceful Saturday nights. Weeknights are less busy, too — but it feels good to respect the urge to simplify suppertime. Go ahead and heed those cravings for warm, one-pot meals that don’t take long to prepare.
I recently fell in love with two suppers that use ingredients that are familiar and easy to keep around. The first is a take on a traditional Italian soup, tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth). It’s perfect for Sunday night or a light weeknight supper. You finish it with a squeeze of lemon, which helps your body absorb all the minerals in the chard or spinach. White-stemmed chard works best in this soup, because gem-toned rainbow chard will turn your broth a murky purple-gray. Fresh spinach is also perfect here.
Cabbage, another sturdy green vegetable, is also thrifty and plentiful this time of year. Though it lacks chard’s ruffly glamor, its nutritional virtues have gotten Eastern Europeans through countless grim winters, and this life-sustaining brassica keeps for eons in the fridge. Your little Bolsheviks will calm right down at the sight of a russet kielbasa, its skin splitting slightly, resting atop the soft, mellow cabbage, onions, and potatoes. I’d like to say the beer in the stew calms them too, but the 20-minute cooking time assures that any significant amounts of alcohol have evaporated.
For a cheery dessert, cut up some navel oranges, or hand out sweet, easy-to-peel clementines.
Kielbasa with Winter Vegetables
Serves 4 Adapted from a Michael Symon recipe on ABC’s The Chew
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 whole kielbasa (we used a turkey kielbasa, and it was terrific)
- 1 yellow onion, cut in half crosswise, then sliced
- 1/2 head of green or napa cabbage, sliced crosswise into strips up to 1” wide
- 1/2 pound new or fingerling potatoes, halved
- A 12-ounce bottle of beer or 1 1/2 cups broth
- salt and pepper
- caraway seeds or thyme, if desired
- coarse brown mustard to taste
Pat the kielbasa dry if moist. In a stovetop-safe casserole or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kielbasa and sear until brown, a few minutes per side. Remove and set aside on a plate. Add onions, cabbage, and optional seasonings like caraway or thyme. Cook till tender, with some browned edges. Add potatoes and kielbasa. Add a little salt and pepper, then fill pot with beer. You want to cover vegetables but leave the sausage only about half-submerged. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and taste the broth for seasoning and adjust as needed. Stir in mustard to taste. Not all kids like mustard, and the broth tastes great even without it. You can always pass the mustard at the table. Cut the sausage into pieces for serving in wide, shallow bowls. Eat with warm, crusty bread and butter.
Tortellini in Broth with Swiss Chard
Serves 4 Adapted from marthastewart.com
- 1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- A piece of parmesan cheese rind, to deepen the flavor of the broth (optional)
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 lb cheese or meat tortellini
- 1 bunch Swiss chard, ribs and stems removed, washed and chopped roughly (or, for uber-convenience, a box or bag of prewashed baby spinach)
- lemon wedges for serving
In a medium pot, bring broth, rind (if using), and 3 cups water to a boil. Add tortellini and cook till they float to the surface and start look puffy. As they begin to rise, add chard or spinach and cook until chard and tortellini are tender. Remove rind. Serve soup with grated cheese and lemon wedges.