What to eat in the midst of winter
“I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter's evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream,” wrote Mark Twain in his autobiography. “I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people's tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting.”
Twain was well aware that, in the midst of winter, we turn to food not just for comfort but for warmth and resiliency against the bitter cold. And this winter, Santa Fe is steeped in cold as well as snow...lots of snow. In fact snow is falling furiously even now, as I write this week's words.
If the fierceness of this winter has got you in its grip, it might be time to take a page out of Twain's book and rustle up some grub that will warm your spirit and feed your soul. Winter apples, cider and doughnuts could do the trick, but plenty of of heartier heartwarming fare can be found in some of our favorite Santa Fe restaurants. These suggestions below will get you started.
Twain may not have ever tasted traditional New Mexico cuisine, but if he had, I'm sure he would have been an admirer. He might even have added green chile stew to his favorite winter foods, especially if it was the version served at Atrisco Cafe & Bar. Simple recipes, fresh ingredients and friendly service is the motto here, so it's the kind of place you'll like to linger in, savoring green chile stew brimming with beef, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs and spices. The chile rellenos here are equally gratifying because you get not one, but two chile rellenos stuffed with cheese, covered with bread crumbs and served with green chile, rice and beans.
You could also swing by for Atrisco's weekend breakfast, which is worth getting out of bed for, even in a snowstorm. Montaña de Papas are a great way to start the day, a heap of home fries covered with ham, red or green chile, cheese and an egg. Or try two eggs any style with carne adovada, melted cheese and hash browns. The Breakfast Enchilada is equally fortifying, featuring two bacon and egg-rolled enchiladas accompanied by beans, hash browns, cheese and red, green or Christmas.
Trattoria a Mano's acclaimed rustic Italian cuisine offers a great reason to come in out of the cold. The pasta here is made fresh every day in a variety of dishes that will transport you to a cozy, charming Italian village, where you can forget all about what the weather's doing outside. Start with a bowl of warming butternut squash soup with roasted pear and house made lavash. You'll think of Twain with his winter apples and nuts if your order the honeycrisp apple salad with smoked duck, local goat cheese, walnuts and honey rosemary vinaigrette. There's nothing like house made pasta and once you've had it, you can never go back. You'll agree after you've feasted on a Mano's spaghetti Bolognese with beef and veal ragu and shaved Parmigiano or fusilli al sugo, a flavorful combo of fennel sausage, tomato, spinach, Calabrian chile and Pecorino Sardo.
Hearty winter entrées include chicken Marsala with local mushrooms, sweet onions and Brussels sprouts “agrodolce” (a flavorful Italian sweet and sour sauce), eggplant Parmesan and sccaloppine di vitello, with saltimbocca sauce and squash gratin. If you've saved room, the tiramisu will send you out into the night with a song in your heart, no matter the arctic temperature.
Sometimes what we need in the depths of winter is good company, the spark of human spirit that can enliven the heart of anyone dispirited by the winter blues. For great company, head over to the Cowgirl, offering live music evey night and a big, bold menu of Southwestern BBQ “with a twist” and “new-fashioned comfort food.” Because it's winter, start with Cabeza de Ajo, a full head of roasted garlic, perfect for fighting the conmmon cold. It's served with melted Monterey Jack, tomatillo salsa and crostini slices. Then try a big ol' bowl of Chuckwagon Chili, loaded with Texas-style ground beef and brisket, beans, veggies, jalapeños, red onions, sour cream and cheddar cheese, served with jalapeño cornbread. The signature butternut squash casserole will also cheer your heart, made with rich layers of squash, caramelized onions, Monterey Jack cheese and bread crumbs.
Wherever you end up savoring a meal that warms your spirit, take heart in knowing that spring is just around the corner, with longer days and shorter nights and lots of wonderful feasts ahead.