In March, one of the only local products left is cabbage.
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!
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).
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.