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cabbage gratin

Underdog Cabbage Stars in this Gratin

 In March, one of the only local products left is cabbage.
cabbage gratin meal

I’ve been wondering why corned beef gets all the love this month when cabbage is perhaps more beloved and is definitely more available and versatile. When everything else from the garden is depleted, except perhaps winter squash, cabbage in cold storage hangs on.

I love bok choy (especially baby heads) for stir fry, napa for kimchi and savoy for cabbage rolls. But I don’t much consider the stalwart green cabbage. Inexpensive, ever present and amenable to broth, flame or salad bowl.

So, I posted a simple question on my Facebook page last week about how people cook and eat cabbage. The comments came in fast and passionate. “Cabbage is the food of my people!” “I luv my cabby.” “Let me count the ways!”

Who knew this supposedly disparaged veg could provoke a veritable cabbage love fest!

green cabbage

Recipe Roundup

If, like me, you’d like to broaden your appreciation for green cabbage, here’s a quick roundup  with recipe links. So that even when the more adorable and easy-to-love spring greens start coming in you’ll still have a place in your heart for good ‘ol cabbage.

  • Raw: Sliced into chiffonade (the finest slices you can manage–sharp knife required), the fine ribbons make the lightest coleslaw (try blue cheese), taco toppings (go heavy with the lime) and salads like this cabbage-heavy Vietnamese Chicken Salad recipe from the Rural Eating archives.
  • Sauteed: Sliced thin or thick and then sauteed in oil, butter or bacon fat until it is as crunchy or limp as you like it. Add broth and you have a cabbage stew or soup like Marcella Hazan’s Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup.
  • Baked: Russian vegetable pie and all its variations sounds great but I’m partial to this updated Cabbage and Onion Torta from Melissa Clark.
  • Braised: Cut into wedges, sitting in broth and put into a hot oven is a transformative experience for vegetable and eater alike, as in this seminal Braised Cabbage recipe by Molly Stevens (be sure to check out all the tasty variations).

green cabbage saute

green cabbage with cream

Cabbage, My Way

For my part, I throw two concepts into the cabbage pot. For one thing, a single medium cabbage weighs about 2 pounds, and I believe it is the sheer bulk (and generosity, you might say) that makes cabbage’s many attributes pale. So, I wanted a recipe that used a lot of cabbage all at once. Besides, if an entire head of its cousin the cauliflower can make The New York Times food section, why can’t a head of cabbage have ambitions?

Secondly, when cabbage is cooked it is generally softened but not browned. I had a notion that caramelizing cabbage would divulge some of its other qualities and flavors increasing its overall appeal.

Finally, March still invites wintery comfort foods and a gratin squarely sits in this category. Inspired by the classic French bistro chard and endive gratins–dishes that celebrate a single vegetable enriched with cream and ample cheese brought to the table bubbling hot…

Voilà, Caramelized Cabbage Gratin.

cabbage gratin large

cabbage gratin
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Caramelized Cabbage Gratin

This recipe is based on my adoration for the classic cream-based gratin spotlighting a single seasonal vegetable. It is dairy rich and vegetarian, but I would not blame you if you wanted to toss some lardons (browned bacon bits) into the casserole with the browned cabbage before baking. This simple but luxurious treatment is my homage to green cabbage, which I will never look at the same way again.

Course Main Course
Cuisine French
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 8 people
Calories 346 kcal
Author Lynne

Ingredients

  • 1 medium green cabbage, 2-2 1/2 pounds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons sea salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon heaping dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon caraway optional
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 large bay leaf, peeled and smashed
  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) grated Gruyère Emmanthaler or other good-quality Swiss cheese

Instructions

  1. Stand the cabbage on its stem end and cut it into slabs 1 to 1 1/2-inches thick. Lay the slices flat and cut them in half and then cut a V shape into the thickest part of the core while leaving the leaves intact. (Set aside the rounded ends or slice them as finely as you can and store for slaw, salad, tacos or one of the ideas above using raw cabbage.) Season the slices generously with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.

  2. Heat the oil in your largest sauté pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the cabbage slices until they are nicely browned, 4-5 minutes per side, turning them with a spatula and keeping the slices intact as best you can. Transfer the cooked cabbage slices to a 2- or 3-quart casserole dish (a 9 x 13 baking dish is 3 quarts) and repeat cooking the remaining slices.

  3. Meanwhile, whisk the cream with the mustard, caraway, if using, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Preheat the oven to 475°F.

  4. When all the cabbage is cooked, cram it into the casserole dish in a single layer, including any stray strips that came off while cooking it. Tuck in the garlic and the bay leaf. Pour the cream over the cabbage and press it down with a spatula so this it is in an even layer. Sprinkle on the cheese to create a nearly solid layer on top. (The gratin can be prepared 2 days in advance and refrigerated up to this point.)

  5. Bake the gratin until it is bubbling and well browned on top, 25 to 30 minutes. For the most even browning, rotate the casserole dish during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Comments

  1. Anything with cream, topped with lots of cheese will win me over but this looks truly divine Lynne! We do tend to overlook cabbage, but this recipe proves just how deliciously versatile it can be.

    Love the part where you said “why can’t a head of cabbage have ambitions?” – why not indeed!!

    -Lauren-

    1. Glad you’re not afraid of the dairy, Lauren! It is worth it. Thanks for reading.

  2. Yes! Yes! Yes! Making this right away. Thx. (And love your writing…more, please!)

    1. I’m delighted that among all the cabbage treatments floating around you want to try this one! Doubly flattered by the writing compliment. You are so sweet to me!

  3. Pam

    I am not on Facebook so missed your “call to cabbage!” Cabbage is a regular around here all winter, and I think our favorite dish right now is “Rumbledethump” from Andrea Chessman’s RECIPES FROM THE ROOT CELLAR. Mashed potatoes, sauteed cabbage, some cheese–pure comfort! It’s similar to Bubbles and Squeak! I’m making it tomorrow, and the leftovers are great with an egg or two on top.
    Love this post, Lynne–all of them actually!

  4. That is an amazing name for food Pam! I will have to have a look at that book. Enjoy your leftovers (that’s what we’re having for dinner tonight–love ’em especially with an egg) and thanks for commenting.

  5. Ahhh…thrilled to have found this…and YOU! I bought a cabbage twice the size of my head the other day with no plans what so ever! This gratin looks incredible!!! I’m making it for our Sunday dinner! Thanks so much!

    1. Thanks Caroline! I do hope you liked this as much as I did. (The second time I made it I “sampled” 1\4 of the pan.)

  6. Yesss, yes yes. I am such a huge fan of any and all cabbages, and it’s sad that they aren’t the most photogenic veggies in the world otherwise all my blog posts would be about them 😛

    1. Another secret admirer of cabbage! Happy to add you as another fan of this underdog veg, Allie. I bet you could snap a pretty shot of baby boo choy.

  7. Sally

    I love it and can eat it all day. Will try your recipe and let you know what I think.

    1. Please do!

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