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Vines & Vittles: Moderation and menasha will set me straight

By John Brown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the dawn of a new year, it is not uncommon for many of us to experience a touch of melancholy, guilt or both. Melancholy, in my case, because I cannot physically or fiscally sustain the incessant consumption of excellent food and wine ad infinitum.

But even if I had the wherewithal to keep it going, my old companion -- guilt -- is always present to remind me that my wanton appetites are approaching cardinal-sin status.

So, I suppose it's time to back it off a bit, bite the bullet and adopt a more ascetic lifestyle. No more multicourse meals with multiple wines (for a while). After all, Lent is only a month away. And I've got a plan.

Now, don't get me wrong. There is no cold turkey on this menu. And I will allow myself a sip or two of that purple or golden elixir we all love. But moderation is my new mantra this winter.

Eating the appropriate food is key to any successful lifestyle modification, and I know just the food to get me on the straight and narrow. Menasha (pronounced men-nay-sha) is a dish that my grandmother, mother and aunts prepared with great regularity, particularly in the cooler months.

Menasha is also known as minestra and is a cross between a soup and a stew. The main ingredient is any type of green vegetable. Our family used everything from spinach, dandelion greens, kale and cabbage, to green beans, broccoli and collards.

They also flavored the dish with a piece of meat boiled in water. Now don't gag, but it was not uncommon for Grandma to use a pig's foot, chicken feet or even a pig's ear in menasha. Sounds strange, I know, but the resulting dish was delicious and nutritious.

My recipe uses a more acceptable pork part, but you may eliminate the meat completely and make this a vegetarian meal if you like. To spark up the dish, I also always add hot vinegar pepper rings to the bowl right before serving.

To complete this hearty and warming meal, pair it with a big, rough-around-the-edges red such as Marietta Old Vine Red, Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese or Marin Codax Tempranillo to name a few of my favorite vinous accompaniments.

So if you're feeling a little fat and guilty about now, try on my recipe for New Year's Menasha.

New Year's Menasha

     2    pork ribs with bone (optional)

     1/2     pound kale, cleaned

     1    head of Napa cabbage

     2     medium onions, chopped in large pieces

     3     cloves of garlic

     3     tablespoons olive oil

     1     tablespoon fennel seeds

     1     teaspoon red pepper seeds (optional)

     4     medium potatoes quartered

     1     tablespoon Kosher salt

     1     tablespoon freshly ground pepper

     1     quart of water

SAUTÉ the ribs in a large pot with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until brown.

ADD 1 quart of water to the meat and allow to boil for 15 minutes.

ADD all the vegetables, salt, pepper, red pepper and fennel to the pot.

SAUTÉ the garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a separate pan until lightly brown.

DISCARD the garlic and add the olive oil to the pot.

COOK for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

SERVE in large bowls with crusty bread, full-bodied red wine and enjoy.

For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.


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