FOR a really competent vegetable, one that supports without demanding to star, one that can be wrapped or stuffed or bedded as well as just sit there next to the meat, consider cabbage.

Many people consider cabbage overbearing.

That's their fault for mistreating it. Cabbage objects--strongly--to being overcooked, as well as to being drowned. But treated with a little attention--and just a little cooking--it is a sweet and docile vegetable and one that makes everything else taste good.

What would corned beef be without cabbage? Or a corned beef sandwich without coleslaw? Could eastern Europeans face an impending winter without stuffed cabbage? Why eat a hot dog except for the sauerkraut?

On the other hand, what would happen to family-night-out at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant if anyone told the kids that their favorite mu shi pork was mostly cabbage?

We love it, but we don't necessarily know that we do.

Cabbage, after all, takes on so many disguises. Quarter a head and boil it: the mildly sweet and limp pale green accompaniment to corned beef. Shred it finely and steam it for a mere couple of minutes: drier and more crunchy. Dice it and saute' it in butter or oil or, best of all, in chicken fat, just until the edges begin to brown: a sweet, crunchy and deliciously rich side dish. Bake it with cream or layered with meat until it nearly melts, or shred it raw for a peppery slaw. Blanch the leaves and serve them to wrap a meat salad or a Chinese stir-fry when you don't want to bother with pancakes.

A compact and bargain-priced head of cabbage can sit in your refrigerator for two weeks, patiently awaiting your cooking whims. And a mere head of two or three pounds yields 10 to 15 cups of slices or shreds. But most important, it absorbs the flavors of its companions so that the corned beef or the pork stuffing or the soy marinade reverberates through the dish.

Furthermore, it is usable right down to the core. Ask the Chinese. Just slice that core thinly and stir-fry it so not a morsel need be wasted of this most efficient vegetable.

And like Washington's weather, cabbage is sufficiently changeable that if you don't like it one way, hang around for the next. We present here corned beef and cabbage in accents more varied than Irish--layered with meat in the style of the French, brewed into a revisionist Russian soup, stir-fried into a mu shi surprise and then self-wrapped. And cabbage on its own, from pure'e to pasta. CHOU EN FARCE TANTE CAROLINE (Casserole of Green Cabbage, Ground Meat and Apples, With Cream) (6 servings) 1 medium-sized green cabbage Salt Freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons cumin, ground 1 or 2 yellow onions, to make 3/4 cup, chopped 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh pork fat, or 4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil Pinch of saffron (optional) 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 pounds corned beef or combination corned beef, boiled beef and/or fresh country sausage 2 large eggs, lightly beaten 1 teaspoon allspice 1 teaspoon paprika 1 1/2 pounds cooking apples 1 tablespoon lard, melted bacon fat or oil 1 1/4 cups cream 8 thin slices corned beef Corned beef, diced and saute'ed for garnish (optional)

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 boil the cabbage uncovered for about 10 minutes if it is young and tender, slightly longer if less tender. 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, and set them aside.

Saute' the chopped onions gently in the fat or oil 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. Remove and set aside. If using sausage, brown it in the same skillet, and drain on absorbent paper.

Put the corned beef, and beef or sausage if they have been included through a meat grinder or chop coarsely in food processor or by hand. Stir the meat into the onions, and add the beaten eggs. Season highly with allspice, paprika, and the remaining cumin to taste, and set aside.

To assemble, bake and serve: Peel and core the apples and cut them into 1/4-inch dice. Rub a 2 1/2-quart casserole with the fat or oil. Line the bottom and sides with a layer of cabbage leaves, and spoon in a little cream. Then put a layer each of apples, cabbage leaves and half the meat mixture and half the slices of corned beef, spooning some cream between each layer. Finish the casserole the same way, filling it to the top, and finishing with a layer of apples and a layer of cabbage leaves.

Cover the casserole and bake in 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. If you like, you can garnish it with a sprinkling of diced, saute'ed pieces of corned beef. Adapted from "Simca's Cuisine," by Simone Beck REVISIONIST RUSSIAN CABBAGE SOUP (8 servings) 1/2 pound cabbage, chopped 1 onion, chopped 2 carrots, chopped 3 to 4 tablespoons butter 8 cups fresh or canned beef broth 1/2 pound sauerkraut, drained and rinsed 3 potatoes, peeled and cut in bite-sized pieces 6-ounce can tomato paste Pepper 1/4 pound corned beef, cut in bite-sized pieces 1/2 clove garlic, minced Lemon juice Sour cream for serving Fry cabbage, onion and carrots in butter. Add broth, and bring to a boil. Add sauerkraut, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add potatoes, tomato paste, pepper. Cook on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beef and simmer 10 minutes. Just before serving add garlic and a few drops of lemon juice. Serve with sour cream. Adapted From "The Complete Russian Cookbook," by Lynn Visson MU SHI CORNED BEEF (4 to 6 servings) 4 dried black mushrooms 2 tablespoons golden lilies 2 tablespoons (after soaking) tree ear fungus 1 1/2 cups boiling water 1/2 pound lean corned beef, julienned 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch 1 scallion, julienned 1 slice ginger, julienned 6 tablespoons oil 1 tablespoon sherry 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1/2 medium-sized head cabbage, julienned 1/4 cup bamboo shoots, julienned 6 water chestnuts, shredded 4 eggs, slightly beaten Soy sauce to taste Chinese pancakes or steamed cabbage leaves for serving 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

Place mushrooms, golden lilies and fungus in separate bowls. Pour boiling water over each. Soak separately at least 20 minutes. Remove stems from mushrooms, hard tips from golden lilies and hard part of fungus. Discard. Cut ingredients in julienne.

Mix corned beef with the cornstarch. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok. Add scallion and ginger. Stir-fry 1 minute. Add corned beef. Stir-fry about 1 minute or slightly browned. Add sherry and sugar. Remove.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok. Add cabbage, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Stir-fry 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, golden lilies and fungus. Stir-fry 1 minute more. Remove.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil. Pour in beaten eggs. Scramble them very fine. Remove. Return corned beef, vegetable mixture and eggs to wok. Heat thoroughly. Add soy sauce to taste, taking into account that the corned beef is salty; stir-fry quickly to heat through.

To serve place steamed pancakes or cabbage leaves on a plate. Spread 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce in center of pancake. Scoop 2 tablespoons of filling on top of sauce. Roll pancake, folding one end to prevent dripping. SALADE AU CHOU (Sauteed Strips of Cabbage Seasoned with Corned Beef, Vinegar, Oil and Spices) (8 to 10 servings)

Choose a tender cabbage and don't overcook it. This salad has a wonderful taste and texture. 2 savoy cabbages 2 tablespoons sweet butter 7 tablespoons olive or peanut oil 1/2 pound corned beef, diced (about 2 cups) 4 tablespoons wine vinegar 1 tablespoon dijon mustard Salt Freshly ground black pepper 2 garlic cloves, minced 2 tablespoons minced parsley or chives

Trim the cabbage and cut into very narrow strips. Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet; add the diced corned beef and saute' on all sides until browned. Add 2 tablespoons of the vinegar, then the cabbage. Cook briefly over high heat until the cabbage is just wilted.

Meanwhile, mix together the mustard, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 6 tablespoons oil and the salt and pepper. Pour over the cabbage and corned beef and stir carefully.

Add the garlic and parsley to the salad just before serving. Adapted from "Cuisine of the Rose," by Mireille Johnson PUREE DE CHOUX (A Cabbage Puree) (8 servings)

Superb with pork and prepared in a jiffy, this reheats well. 2 heads of cabbage, quartered, cores removed 2 tablespoons sweet butter Salt Freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the cabbages in a pan of salted boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Pass through a sieve, a blender or a food processor. Add butter, salt and pepper, stir carefully and serve. From "Cuisine of the Rose," by Mireille Johnson PASTA WITH CHEESE AND GREEN CABBAGE (8 servings)

This recipe originally called for for valtellina, a cheese with a unique and delicate taste that is made in the Valtellina, a valley in Lombardy overlooked by the Alps. Gouda is the best substitute for this cheese, which is now difficult to find even in Rome. This substantial dish can be served as a main course.

Originally the recipe specified pizzocheri, pasta made with a mixture of white and buckwheat flour, similar to fettuccine but cut wider and very coarse. 7 quarts water 3 tablespoons coarse salt 4 medium potatoes, peeled and finely diced 1 pound savoy cabbage, shredded 7 tablespoons unsalted butter 10 fresh sage leaves or 8 dried or 1 teaspoon crushed dried sage 3 cloves garlic, crushed 1 1/2 pounds penne rigati or fettuccine, preferably fresh (if dried use only 1 pound) 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus additional cheese for serving 4 ounces gouda or valtellina cheese, cut into small pieces 4 ounces fontina cheese, cut into small pieces Freshly ground black pepper

Bring 7 quarts water and 3 tablespoons coarse salt to a boil in a large pasta pot. Add the potatoes and cabbage and cook for 15 minutes. Meanwhile put the butter, sage leaves and garlic in a small saucepan and heat until the butter is bubbling. Remove from the heat and discard the garlic. When the potatoes are almost done, add the penne rigati or fettuccine and cook until al dente (start testing fresh pasta after 2 minutes, dried after 8 minutes). Drain the pasta and vegetables, reserving 1 cup of their cooking water. Put about a third of the pasta and vegetables into a heated serving bowl. Sprinkle on a third of the parmesan, then make a layer of a third each of gouda and fontina. Pour over a third of the melted butter. Do not mix. Repeat this process two more times, ending with cheese and butter on top. Sprinkle over the dish up to a cup of the reserved cooking water and serve at once with freshly grated pepper and more parmesan.

Note: Leftover pasta can be put in a buttered overproof dish with a little cream added and browned slightly in a 375-degree oven. From "Italian Cooking in the Grand Tradition," by Jo Bettoja and Anna Maria Cornetto