Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

A dish for the New Year

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 multi-course 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 of the year.

The dish 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.

The recipe below uses a more acceptable pork part, but you may eliminate the meat completely and make this  vegetarian 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 Martin 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.

The Ingredients
Two pork ribs with bone (optional)
One-half pound of cleaned kale
One head of Napa cabbage
Two medium onions chopped in large pieces
Three cloves of garlic
Three tablespoons of olive oil
One tablespoon of fennel seeds
One teaspoon of red pepper seeds (optional)
Four medium potatoes quartered
One tablespoon each Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
One quart of water

The Cooking
Sauté the ribs in a large pot with one tablespoon of olive oil until brown
Add one 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 two tablespoons of olive oil in a separate pan until lightly brown
Discard the garlic and add the olive oil to the pot.
Cook for approximately 45 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender
Serve in large bowls with crusty bread and enjoy
Making good wine: Is it location or weather?
Some Christmas Cheer

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