Autumn and winter brings in particular one vegetable in abundance: the cabbage. In different shapes, colours and textures it presents itself as a cheap and nutritious ingredient. It is often used in soups or stews, which also tends to contribute to its more negative reputation as almost smelly, soggy and not particularly pleasant to eat. In his culinary dictionary Alexandre Dumas refers to it as a food for the peasants.
However, it’s my conviction that cabbage is one of the most useful and versatile of vegetables, which treated with respect can be made into a delicious and sophisticated dish or accompaniment. What is required is a selection of taste adding ingredients for the perfect cabbage dish. My favourite recipe is the following, inspired by Pierre Koffmann’s “Memories of Gascony”, but as long as the basic principles are respected you can basically add any other vegetables and pieces of meat you like.
The trick is to ensure that the cabbage leaves are slowly cooked in a tasty broth. This will make the cabbage melt on your tongue while giving a complicated taste mixing the bitterness of the raw cabbage with the aromas of the broth.
You take a head of cabbage. Any white or green cabbage could work, but best is a green cabbage, with big leaves, such as savoy cabbage. In your pot you put not only the quartered cabbage or the leaves of the cabbage, but also onions, carrots, garlic, a bouquet garni, dry white wine (or red wine or fortified wine), smoked bacon, salt and pepper.
First you need to blanch the quartered cabbage – or the leaves if you prefer it like that – to release the bitter taste. Cook the cabbage for 30 secs in boiling water, refresh in cold water and drain. In the pot slowly soften 1 large onion and 2 carrots in 100 g goose or duck fat. And the garlic, bouquet garni and 300ml dry white wine (or red or port). Now put the cabbage in the pot in layers, adding a layer of sliced, smoked bacon half way. You can also add sausages or other tasty pieces of meat, such as a calf’s foot. Season to taste and cover the pot and leave to simmer for 60-90 minutes. Best is to put it in the oven at 180 C.
You will see after the cooking time how the cabbage has almost reached a point where it melts in your mouth when you eat it, and it has none of the unpleasantness many people associate with cabbage, such as bitterness.
This may seem complicated and to take a long time, but trust me. It is worth the effort to get a truly tasteful dish from a cheap and plenty vegetable, such as the cabbage.