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    Friday, September 22, 2023

    The happiest new year includes cabbage

    Polish Potato Casserole is delicious when enjoyed at your desk the next day.

    The party’s over. The holidays are behind us and the New Year has begun. 

    All of those treats – the cookies, candied yams, chocolates and edible family traditions are nothing but a memory, and a little something extra on your waistline. 

    I find myself enjoying every mouthful of holiday goodness but then, I’ve had enough. I don’t want any more of anything that is made of confectioners’ sugar, butter and white flour – not that I didn’t enjoy every bite. But I reach the point when I can’t wait to return to regular food again – vegetables, stews and soups that give you what you need to stay warm and productive through those other 48 weeks of the year. 

    For your first nonholiday meal, I recommend cabbage, specifically Jane Brody’s Polish Potato Casserole. 

    I found this recipe in Brody’s “Good Food Book” many years ago, and members of my family are still making it today. It combines the humble cabbage with its two favorite cousins, onion and potato, and adds their bestie, kielbasa, to the mix. A proportionally small amount of béchamel sauce is layered among these ingredients and, although I don’t understand how, it really adds a richness to the end result. The sauce gets thinned down by the juices from the onions, cabbage and potatoes, but its flavor effect can’t be denied. 

    The original recipe is heavy on the potato but I tend to use less while increasing the amount of cabbage. Also, because Brody was all about low-fat, high-fiber eating, she calls for only half a pound of kielbasa. I double that. 

    As to the sausage, you can use any of the pork, beef and turkey kielbasas available in the grocery store, but recently, the Stop and Shop in Westerly has begun carrying kielbasa from Central Falls Provision in Central Falls, R.I., a particularly garlicky sausage that really brings a flavor punch to this dish. 

    Central Falls Provision is run by Paul Skoczylas, grandson of its founder, Vincent Skoczylas, who, according to its website, came from Poland and settled in New Britain where he got a job in a meat processing plant. The elder Skoczylas soon moved in 1923 and started his own company in Central Falls, where it is still producing sausage today.

    This recipe calls for a large casserole dish. Sometimes, my 2½ quart Pyrex ends up so full that I have to prop the lid on top of the ingredients, but it always settles into place as the cabbage wilts. This recipe makes for a delicious meal right out of the oven, but it may be even better as leftovers the next day, and the day after that. 

    Happy New Year!

    Polish Potato Casserole 

    1 (generous) tablespoon butter 

    2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (heaping) 

    2 cups milk (I use 1 percent and I heat it, good and hot, in the microwave before adding it to the roux) 

    ½ teaspoon salt 

    ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or more) 

    4 large potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled, sliced thin and set aside to soak in a bowl of cold water (I use less – 1 to 1½ pounds – and I use Yukon gold potatoes with the peel left on) 

    1 large onion, sliced thin 

    ½ pound green cabbage, shredded, about 2 cups (I use more, closer to 4 cups) 

    ½ pound kielbasa, sliced thin (I use 1 pound) 

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

    In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the milk a little bit at a time, stirring well in between to avoid lumps. After you’ve added all the milk, cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and comes to the boil. Add the salt and pepper, cover the pan and set the sauce aside. 

    Butter a 2½-3 quart casserole (or larger), preferably one that has a lid. Spread one-third of the potato slices (don’t bother to dry them off) on the bottom of the dish. Distribute half the onion slices next, followed by half of the cabbage and half of the kielbasa in layers on top of the potatoes. Drizzle on one-third of the white sauce. Repeat with half of the remaining potato slices, and the rest of the onion, cabbage and kielbasa, then half of the remaining white sauce. Finish off by layering on the remaining potatoes, then the final portion of white sauce. Your casserole is going to be very full, but fear not. It will shrink as it cooks. 

    Cover the casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. (You may uncover the casserole for the last 15 minutes, but I like it juicy so I usually leave the lid on all the way through.) 

    Original recipe from “Jane Brody’s Good Food Book.” Jill Blanchette is the multiplatform production manager at The Day. Share recipes or comments with her at j.blanchette@theday.com.

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