Cold winter months call for warming meals around the dinner table. A nourishing meal can provide energy, build up the body’s defenses against illness and fortify the spirit in dreary weather. Nothing is more comforting on a blustery January day than coming home to a steaming bowl of goodness.
Science backs up this observation. Thermogenesis is the heat produced by our bodies during food digestion. Spices, like the cinnamon and nutmeg in the featured gnocchi recipe, actually have a heat-producing effect when we eat them. Capsaicin, a compound in red peppers, causes an increase in blood flow in your stomach and a warming sensation in your body. Slow-digesting root vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes, steadily add energy to our bodies’ metabolic processes, creating heat and satiety. Staying hydrated with an electrolyte-rich soup also helps your body to maintain its optimal core temperature in cool climates.
It may be no surprise that food helps keep us physically warm, but science also points to nutritious foods as a generator of joy. Certain foods can aid in the body’s production of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. These include greens like spinach and kale, and poultry — chicken and turkey. Glutamine, an amino acid found in meat, eggs and corn, is an important precursor to the mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid.
It’s likely that we’ve all experienced the psychological effect of comfort foods; the joy we get from our favorite dishes. Which foods we find comfort in vary widely person to person and depend on our past experiences, cultures and tastes. Eating some foods can remind us of happier times in the past and provide a temporary mental boost. This can be helpful, especially when the excitement of the holidays gives way to the daily grind of mid-January.
Be it physiological, psychological or nostalgic, there’s no doubt food has a powerful effect on us. Whether it’s your favorite bowl of soup or a brand new dish you enjoy for the first time, let food be thy medicine this winter.
Serves 6-8 | Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 35 Minutes
- 1/2 lb thick-cut bacon, cut into 1” pieces
- 1 lb Italian sausage
- 1 medium sweet onion, diced
- 4 potatoes (about 2 lbs), thinly sliced
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1/2 cup parmigiana reggiano
- 6 cups kale, stemmed and chopped
Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium heat until browned and crisp. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon.
Add the Italian sausage and onion to the Dutch oven, stirring and breaking the sausage apart with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is no longer pink and the onion is caramelized (about 5-7 minutes).
Add the potatoes, garlic, salt, red pepper and chicken broth. Increase heat to high and boil for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Remove the soup from heat and stir in cream, cheese and kale. Serve hot with extra parmesan cheese and top with reserved bacon pieces.
Chicken Pot Pie
Makes One 9-inch Pie | Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 1 hour
- Two prepared pie crusts
- 1 lb chicken breast, cubed
- 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
- 1 tsp salt, divided
- 1/2 tsp ground pepper, divided
- 3 medium-sized potatoes, diced
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, minced
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
- 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3/4 cup carrots
- 3/4 cup corn kernels
- 3/4 cup peas
Preheat oven to 425°F. Roll out the prepared pie crust, if necessary, and transfer to a deep-dish pie pan. Roll out the second pie crust and set aside for later.
Season chicken breasts with poultry seasoning, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Boil chicken and potatoes in a medium saucepan for 15 minutes, strain and set aside. Add butter back to pan, scraping the bottom to release any flavorful bits that have stuck. Add onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes, until soft and tender. Sprinkle flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper over onion mixture and stir to combine. Reduce heat and add chicken stock, whipping cream, carrots, corn and peas, and simmer until thick for 7-10 minutes. Add reserved chicken back into vegetable mixture and pour into pie crust. Cover the pie with the second crust and pinch the edges of the pie crusts together to join them. Cut vents into the top of the pie. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden and has crisp edges.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi With Sage Pesto
Serves 4 | Prep Time: 25 Minutes | Cook Time: 15 Minutes
- 1 lb sweet potato, roasted and mashed
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 ounce sage leaves
- 1 ounce parmesan
- 1/2 ounce pine nuts, roasted
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Mascarpone Cream Sauce:
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 oz mascarpone
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1/4 cup parmigiana Reggiano
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
For the gnocchi: Mash sweet potatoes with a fork until smooth. Mix in egg, mascarpone cheese, flour, salt and cinnamon with a fork to form a soft dough. Form a loaf with the dough with your hands. Using a pastry scraper, cut the log into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a thin batard, about ½” in diameter. Cut the batard into 1-inch pieces. Repeat the process until all the gnocchi have been formed.
Put a large pot of salted water onto a boil. While it heats, combine ingredients for the pesto into a blender or food processor and blend until mixture is mostly smooth, or until desired consistency is reached. Once water is boiling, add in gnocchi a few at a time, stirring to keep the gnocchi from sticking together. Remove the cooked gnocchi from the pot with a slotted spoon once they float to the top.
Place butter in a skillet over medium heat, add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Whisk in remaining ingredients until all the lumps are removed and the sauce begins to bubble. Transfer cooked gnocchi into mascarpone cream sauce and stir until all gnocchi are coated. Serve gnocchi hot, with dollops of pesto in each dish, topped with extra parmesan cheese.