Cabbage. Now what does that word conjure up? A soggy, smelly, unappetising vegetable? Or the trendiest green in the winter food wardrobe? I used to be in the former camp, having been raised on overcooked white cabbage at home and having eaten – oh I can hardly bear to recall it – white cabbage with peanuts in a cheese sauce far too many times when a student. If ever there was a recipe that should remind us that reinvention is NOT always a good thing that is it. (What was wrong with us? What was wrong with plain old soup and toast?) But, now that I am imbued with the necessity for local and seasonal produce, now that I have a kitchen groaning with cookery books, I have become much more interested in the cabbage. And so should you be; it’s probably the cheapest green vegetable available in winter, one of the most durable and, I’m discovering, one of the most versatile.
I already love red cabbage (both hot and cold) and recently I have been trying to renegotiate my relationship with its green siblings. A couple of weeks into this cupboard-love frugality I went to the local greengrocer’s, full of the joys of being able to buy something, rather than drag something out of my stocks and my hand went to the odd yet pretty heads of Romanesco. £1.49 a kg. Then I noticed that a wrinkly Savoy cabbage, about twice the size, was 80p. A few more scans revealed that leeks were £2.99 a kg, broccoli about £2 a kg and the trendsetter of all, cavolo nero (oh yes, even Seven Sisters Road has such a thing), was £2 a bunch and a paltry bunch at that. The biggest cabbage then was the cheapest.
So, reader, I bought it. And started scouring said cookbooks for some inspiration since a Savoy cabbage in a one-person household was going to take some eating. Being the sort of cook that will swap her brassicas, I decided that anything suitable for kale, Brussels sprouts or broccoli would probably suit their wrinkly cousin. I started with a side and, sorry cabbage-haters, there is likely to be a main course following in a few days’ time. They are not just ‘learn to love cabbage’ recipes either but lovely and very adaptable ones. This Corrigan idea of cooking a brassica (in his case sprouts) with cream, garlic and bacon is now on my repertoire for good and it makes this much-maligned vegetable positively sexy. Which is how it should be. Don’t believe me? Go to France where chou is not an insult but a term of endearment. Then again so is biche which, badly pronounced, might not go down too well…
For two as a main, four as a side
Savoy cabbage with bacon, cream and garlic
(adapted from The Clatter of Forks and Spoons)
Cupboard (January stores as per this post)
125-200ml cream or crème fraîche (I found the 125ml of the Corrigan recipe needed boosting)
bacon, 4 rashers smoked streaky (I bet it would work with 4 anchovy fillets too)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ Savoy cabbage (about 500g)
1. Rinse the cabbage if necessary, chop off the stalk and separate the leaves. Then roll the leaves tightly, as if you were making a cigar, and cut across them horizontally to create long thin shreds.
2. Steam the cabbage for about 3-5 minutes or, if you don’t have a steamer, put it into a lidded saucepan, pour in a very shallow layer of boiling water, then cover and cook for about the same amount of time. You want it to be just cooked, still bright green.
3. Meanwhile peel, top and tail the garlic clove then crush it or slice it very finely and snip the bacon up into lardon-size pieces.
4. Drain the cabbage if necessary, rinse it briefly in cold water, then leave it on one side in a colander.
5. Put the bacon pieces into a large non-stick frying pan, or a saucepan (I used the one I’d steamed the cabbage in, after a brief rinse) and fry them until crisp.
6. Tip the cabbage in with the bacon and stir together.
7. Put the garlic in a small saucepan with the cream and bring to the boil then pour over the cream. Stir everything together, season and add more cream if you think it needs it (I did).