As autumn turns into winter, I think our tastes change. Mine do, at least. Shorter, colder, wetter days mean heartier, more warming foods. The problem with so many of the wintry comfort foods is that they are not great for us – so often they are full of condensed soups, cream and inordinate amounts of cheese, so much so that they are best relegated to special occasions and holiday dinners. The rest of the time, we count on slow cooking, long roasting techniques to build flavour and round out dishes to turn them into mouth watering cold weather staples.
This particular dish feels rich and satisfying but is not the devil it appears to be. Yes, it has a cup of Parmesan in it, but the volume of vegetables is such that this casserole will feed 6-8 people, so your cheese consumption is well within reason. Nutritional pros and cons aside, it’s a nice change of pace from many of the usual fall and winter side dishes. The cabbage is not overwhelming, but it gives a nice sturdiness to the dish, while the leeks, with all their gentle onion-y aroma, become meltingly soft and will make you wonder why you don’t serve leeks more often. For me, the magic of this dish is in the mustard because it lends a great flavour, and I love the look of the little seeds, not to mention the texture that they contribute.
Unlike the heavier casseroles, this one could become a regular part of your fall and winter menu but despite it’s humble ingredients, it is elegant enough for holiday dinner parties, even for pride-of-place beside The Bird at Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m glad to say that it will be on our table all winter long.
Cabbage and Leeks in Grainy Mustard Sauce
preheat the oven to 375°
3 large leeks, washed and sliced
1/2 medium green cabbage (about 3 lb total)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 C milk
1 Tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
1/2 cup light sour cream (you could use full fat, but you don’t need to)
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Trim leeks by removing the root end and cutting off any hard, or rough looking green parts. Slice the trimmed leeks in half lengthwise and then cut cross wise. Place cut leeks in 2.5 L casserole dish.
Halve a medium cabbage. Reserve 1/2 for another recipe. Remove the core and slice the cabbage half crosswise into thin shreds, as if you were making coleslaw.
Mix the leeks and cabbage together in the casserole. Set aside.
For the sauce:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it is melted, add the butter to make a roux. Stir constantly as the butter and flour mix. When the roux becomes a pale golden colour and smells nutty and toasted, add the milk, stirring to incorporate. Cook the sauce for about 3 minutes, until thickened. While still on the heat, stir in the nutmeg, sour cream and cheese. The sauce should be creamy and pourable but not too thick. Add a touch of milk if you feel it needs it.
Pour the sauce over the reserved cabbage and leeks. Cook in a preheated 375° oven for 45 minutes until the edges are golden and the sauce is bubbling. The cabbage and leeks will have reduced in volume by about 1/3. Garnish with extra grated Parmesan cheese if desired.