A drizzle of cream. A dab of butter. A slice of cheese. What could possibly be wrong with pleasures like those? And yet, to the fat-fearful, they might as well be arsenic — especially heavy cream, which seems to occupy its own circle of dietary damnation.
Granted there are some folks whose systems don’t react well to dairy items, but those products are not inherently “unhealthy.” They are wonderful, basic, natural foods that don’t necessarily make you fat.
Not that I’ve ever waited around for validation, as I drizzled, dabbed and sliced my way through life. (Let them eat tofu, margarine and fake coffee “creamer,” I’d always say.)
But it was a few years back that I heard about two recent studies — one in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, and one in the European Journal of Nutrition (a meta-analysis of 16 studies, no less). Both came to a remarkable conclusion: that those who eat full-fat dairy products are less likely to become and remain obese than those who do not.
I wonder: Is it dairy itself that has a slenderizing effect, or were the non-dairy eaters substituting less healthy alternatives — not olive oil which, like butter, is a real food, but industrial fats such as genetically modified canola oil and Crisco?
Natural fats partner superbly with vegetables from the garden and can help lead picky eaters into a wholesome diet. A pile of spinach on your child’s plate is easier to love if slicked with butter. The same goes for carrots and cauliflower, broccoli and beans. Grate some Cheddar over a casserole of kale and potatoes and you’ll have a kale-lover for life. Creamy soups make earthy turnips or stored winter squash seem luxurious. And consider this: it’s easy to make something creamy by just using cream itself, simmered to reduce and thicken it a little, instead of the more finicky process of cooking a roux of flour and butter and then adding milk. (It only works if the cream is high enough in butterfat — otherwise it may curdle.) Both the flavor and texture are more satisfying too.
Yesterday I went out to the root cellar to look for something appetizing and found there were still plenty of bright green savoy cabbages, stored from the fall harvest. We’d been eating a lot of those during the winter, so I was looking for different ways to prepare them. I brought a few into the house and noticed that the rosemary on the windowsill was sending out fresh new growth — a sure sign that the days were lengthening.
Looking for a way to pair the two, I first sliced up some stored onions, very thinly, and mixed them with finely sliced cabbage in the top of a steamer. While they were cooking, I snipped a few rosemary sprigs, and thickened a little cream for just a minute or two in a skillet. After draining the cabbage, I drizzled the cream over it, sprinkled on the rosemary, and suddenly the cabbage seemed new, and warm weather not quite so far away.
Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”