MY HUSBAND was traumatized at an impressionable age by overboiled, foul-smelling English boarding school cabbage. It has taken decades and a very cautions approach to overcome this early and appalling assault on his taste buds and olfactory senses. But now he will eat cabbage -- and miraculously like it -- because I have learned to make cabbage taste good.
Unless cabbage is stuffed (which it loves) or unless the intention is to cook it down to unrecognizable origins, the less liquid that is used and the shorter the cooking time, the better it will taste and the less it will small. I adore corned beef and cabbage, but I would never boil the cabbage. Instead, I cut it into wedges, put it in a skillet with a good lump of butter, some salt and pepper and a sprinkle of garlic powder. The skillet is covered and the cabbage sauteed gently for 8 to 10 minutes. No damp flabby glob this.
Cabbage cooked in combination with other foods has an extraordinary chameleon-like quality, complementing but not overpowering them. This was confirmed recently when I was foolhardy enough to present guests with a meal consisting solely (except! for dessert) of four cabbage dishes: a crunchy Laotian cabbage saute, a velvety Alsatian casserole and an extraordinary Italian chicken fricasee with a creamy pink sauce that had begun life as shredded red cabbage. Each dish was so different in flavor, color and texture that the disaster I had feared became a triumphant pigout.
Cabbages are grown everywhere in the world and have been eaten forever. I know of no cuisine that does not use cabbage, despite the knowledge early in history that it is good for you. While cabbages in their several varieties are available year round, cold weather is my favorite time for making them because they combine so well with winter foods.
Cabbages should be firm and solid to the touch. The ordinary smooth-leafed cabbage is green when it is young and white when it matures. White or winter cabbage makes the best sauerkraut and cole slaw. Green cabbage, which should have green outleaves and white innerleaves, cooks well. Savoy cabbage, with its beautiful crinkled and mottled green leaves, is milder and thought by many to be the most desirable. Red Cabbage, without which a Central European could not eat a goose, is a lovely way to put color on a winter table.
Most recipes for red cabbage call for red wine or red wine vinegar, which help to hold the color. Leftover red cabbage loses its color while stored in the refrigerator. To bring it back, stir in a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar while reheating.
For those who think that cabbage is an inelegant dish, I commend Lady Henderson's recipe, which is used even today for small dinners at the British Embassy. MOUNE SOUVANNA PHOUMA STIEGLITZ'S LAOTIAN CABBAGE SAUTE (3 to 4 servings) 1 medium onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, chopped 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/2 pound boneless pork shredded 3 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and sliced About 1 pound green cabbage, shredded A handful of beansprouts (optional) 2 tablespoons fish sauce (available in supermarket Oriental foods sections) 1 tablespoon oyster sauce (available in supermarket Oriental foods sections)
Saute the oinion and garlic in the oil until soft but not brown. Add the shredded pork and saute until all the pink is gone. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the cabbage and optional beansprouts and cook until wilted but still crisp, for about 4 minutes.Season with the fish sauce and oyster sauce. Stir over high heat for a mnute or two and imediately serve with rice. COULIBIAC OF CABBAGE (12 servings as a first course, 6 servings as a main course) 1 large onion, chopped 5 tablespoons butter 3 pounds savoy cabbage 5 hard-boiled eggs, chopped About 2 teaspoons dried dill weed (less if it is very pungent) 2 tablespoons chopped parsley Salt, pepper, sugar to taste 1/2 recipe any brioche dough made with 7 cups of flour Beaten egg to glaze 2 tablespoons melted butter
Cook the oinion without browning it in the buter. Discard the coarse outer leaves and core of the cabbage, slice the cabbage, put it into a colander and pour a kettle of boiling water over it. Press out the moisture as soon as it can be handled, then add it to the onion to cook down further in its own juice. When it is just done, but still a little crisp, drain it well. Add the eggs, herbs and seasonings to taste.
Roll out the brioche dough into two almost equal oblongs. Put the smaller one on a baking sheet lined with foil (to help you transfer it to a serving dish later). Brush the sheet with beaten egg and pile the filling on it, leaving a 1 inch rim. Put the second oblong on top. Roll up and press the edges firmly together, cutting away any surplus pastry. Make a central hole and decorate the pie with pastry cut into leaf or other shapes. Brush over with egg. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes and then reduce oven to 375 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. This dish can be made earlier in the day and reheated in a 300 degree oven for about half an hour. Before serving pour the melted butter into the pastry through the central hole. Serve with a bowl of sour cream, diluted, if desired, with half as much heavy sweet cream. ITALIAN CHICKEN FRICASEE WITH RED CABBAGE (4 servings) 1-1/2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin, about 1 cup 1/3 cup olive oil 2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered 1 pound or more red cabbage, shredded very fine, about 4 cups 1 frying chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces 1/2 cup good red wine Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Choose a saute pan broad enough to contain all the chicken pieces in a single layer. Put in the sliced onion, the olive oil and the garlic. Saute over medium heat until the garlic turns a rich deep gold.
Add the shredded cabbage and cook, uncovered, at medium heat for 6 to 7 minutes. Stir it thoroughly once or twice.
Put in the chicken pieces, sliding them under the cabbage so they will rest, skin down, in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Add the wine, salt and a liberal amount of pepper. To balance the natural sweetness of the cabbage, add salt a little more freely than you would ordinarily. Cover the pan and continue to cook at medium heat. From time to time, turn the chicken pieces over and stir the contents of the pan. The chicken will be done in 40 to 45 minutes, or when tender at the pricking of a fork. The cabbage will no longer be recognizable as such. It will have dissolved into a delectable tender mass that serves as the accompanying sauce.
From Marcella Hazan's More Classic Italian Cooking LADY HENDERSON'S STUFFED CABBAGE LIMOUSINE (6 servings) 1 large savoy cabbage, about 3 to 4 pounds 1/2 pound chestnuts 1 quart beef stock 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs 1/4 cup chopped onions 1 pound sausage meat Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon minced parsley 1/4 pound fresh pork fat, cut in strips 8 slices bacon 1 tablespoon tomato puree 1 tablespoon cornstarch 2 tablespoons Madeira
Cook the cabbage for 10 minutes in boiling salted water, then drain. Carefully remove the cabbage leaves and lie them one on top of the other. When you get to the heart, remove it. Discard the core.
Score the chestnuts across on the round side and roast them in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes until both shell and skin can be peeled off. Cook the chestnuts for 10 minutes in the meat stock. Make a mixture with the breadcrumbs, onions, sausage meat, chestnuts, salt, pepper and parsley. Make a small bar with some of the mixure and put it in the center of the cabbage (where you have removed the heart). Cover it with a few cabbage leaves, coat these with the sausage mixture and continue to re-make the cabbage, speading a layer of the stuffing between each layer of leaves. When you have remade the cabbage, lie the strips of fat horizontally around the base of the cabbage. Then place the bacon slices vertically, stretching downards from the top of the cabbage to the ring of fat strips. Tie the whole cabbage securely with kitchen string or place on a large square cheesecloth, doubled, and tie. Put the cabbage in a casserole. Pour over the stock which was used to cook the chestnuts so that it reaches halfway up the cabbage. Add the tomatoe puree and the cornstarch diluted in the Madeira.
Place the tightly covered pan in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours. Baste very often during the cooking time. You may have to add a little more stock. The cabbage should be well glazed and the juices well concentrated.
Untie the cabbage or remove the cheesecloth -- the cabbage will remain intact -- and serve in a dish with a circle of freshly boiled potatoes with a little parsley. Serve the juices separately in a sauceboat. From Mary Henderson's Paris Embassy Cookbook Alstatian casserole of green cabbage, ground meats and apples with cream, or CHOU EN FARCE TANTE CAROLINE (6 to 8 servings) 1 medium-sized green cabbage Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons cumin, ground 1 pound fresh country sausage meat 3 tablespoons fat drained off from browing the sausage 1 or 2 yellow onions, chopped, to make 3/4 cup Pinch of saffron (optional) 3/4 pound boiled ham or a slice of smoked ham, with the fat 3 or 4 slices Canadian bacon or prosciutto (optional) 2 large eggs, lightly beaten Allspice to taste Paprika to taste 1 1/2 pounds cooking apples 1 tablespoon melted fat from the sausage or bacon grease 8 thin slices prosciutto or Canadian bacon 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
Wash and quarter the cabbage, discarding any tough or wilted leaves. Plunge it into a large quantity of boiling water, add a tablespoon of salt when the water returns to the boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Refresh it in a colander under cold running water. When cool separate the leaves and spread them out on paper towels until they are thoroughly dry.Season them with a little salt and pepper and about a teaspoon of cumin. Set them aside.
Break up the sausage meat and brown it in a saute pan. Turn it into a sieve over a bowl to drain off the fat. Put the sausage meat into a large mixing bowl and measure out 3 tablespoons of the fat into the saute pan. Add the onions and cook gently for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Season with salt, pepper and saffron if you wish and continue to cook until the onions are soft and slightly brown. Add to the mixing bowl with the browned sausage.
Put the ham and optional Canadian bacon or prosciutto through a meat grinder in a food processor. Stir into the sausage and onions. Add the beaten eggs. Season highly with allspice, paprika and the remaining cumin to taste. Set aside.
Peel and core the apples and cut them into 1/4-inch dice.
Rub a 2 1/2 quart casserole, about 4 inches deep, with a lid, with the tablespoon of melted fat. Line the bottom and sides with a layer of cabbage leaves and spoon in a little cream. Then, spooning cream between each layer, put a layer each of apples, cabbage leaves, half the meat mixture and half the prosciutto or Canadian bacon slices. Finish the casserole in the same way, filling it to the top and finishing with a layer of apples and a layer of apples and layer of cabbage leaves.
Cover the casserole and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 1/2 hour. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and finish cooking for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours longer. The mixture will be very smooth and tender. Serve the chou in its casserole. This dish is even better when reheated the next day. Stuffed CABBAGE LEAVES (BASIC RECIPE) (6 servings) 1 large head of green cabbage, about 4 pounds 1 recipe of any of the following fillings
Pour boiling water over the cabbage to cover and let soak for 15 minutes. Drain and remove the leaves carefully. When leaves become small, overlap 2 or 3 to equal a large leaf.
Mix desired filling, place some of this on each cabbage leaf. Tuck the sides and roll up carefully. Cook seam down as indicated. STUFFED CABBAGE A LA MENAGERE The filling: 1/4 cup oil 1 pound lean pork, cubed 1 pound lean veal, cubed 1 medium onion, sliced Salt and pepper to taste 2 eggs
Heat oil in a skillet, add the meat and brown it. Add the onion and brown it. Add salt and pepper.Put meats and onion through the grinder or mince food processor. Add eggs and mix well to bind. Stuff the cabbage leaves. The cooking: 1/4 cup oil 1 carrot, chopped 1 medium onion, chopped 1 pound pork skin, cubed 1 bay leaf 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme 1 cup dry white wine 1/2 cup good beef stock
Pour oil into a large, oven-proof casserole. Add the next five ingredients. Arrange cabbage rolls on top. Cover casserole and put it in a 375 degree oven. After 10 minutes add wine and stock. Continue to cook, uncovered, at the same heat, for 1 hour. Remove casserole from oven. Carefully put the cabbage rolls on a serving plate. Strain the sauce around them. SWEET AND SOUR STUFFED CABBAGE The filing: 1 pound ground beef 3 tablespoons uncooked rice 4 tablespoons grated onions 1 egg 3 tablespoons cold water 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Mix all ingredients and stuff cabbage leaves. The cooking: 2 tablespoons oil 2 onions, sliced 3 cups canned Italian tomatoes 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper Beef bones (optional) 3 tablespoons honey 1/4 cup lemon juice 1/4 cup seedless raisins (optional)
Heat the oil in a deep, heavy saucepan. Lightly brown the onions in it.Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and the bones if you have them. Cook over low heat 30 minutes. Add the cabbage rolls to the sauce. Cover and cook over low heat 1 1/2 hours. Add the honey, lemon juice and optional raisins. Cook 30 minutes longer. SPINCACH AND MUSHROOM STUFFED CABBAGE The filling: 1/2 pound chopped cooked spinach 1/4 pound chopped cooked mushrooms 3 egg yolks 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs Salt and pepper 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Mix all ingredients and stuff cabbage leaves. Cover rolls with chicken stock, add 2 tablespoons of butter and braise in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour.