Friday, March 16, 2012

Greetings from the Cabbage Patch

As promised, this is chapter 1 of the Step-by-Step of Updated St. Paddy's Day Food.  

Growing up, we ate cabbage two ways:  boiled, where it stunk up the entire house, or fried - starting the pan with a pound of bacon (approximately) and chucking in some chopped green cabbage to fry off in the bacon fat.  While in theory this is fantastic (you all know my views on bacon fat), it actually came out a kind of greasy.  Also, the cabbage could be damn bitter. 

Handled properly, like so many other vegetables on the planet that I thought I hated until I learned how to cook them correctly, cabbage is not bitter.  It's actually well-adjusted, and happy, and despite it's bad reputation has no need for therapy. 

While I ran screaming from the cabbage stench as a child, as an adult I have a much broader appreciation for both cabbage and it's many relatives.  Red is great in salads or slaw, or braised with apples and dill ... napa cabbage is great in salads or soups or any Asian food you can think of ... bok choy is great in soups or roasted ... even kale can be wonderful in a white bean soup.  Greens are good, people!  No scurvied and toothless folks in my household!  Eat the rainbow!  And I don't mean Skittles.

You'll need onions and garlic, a little celery, an apple and a bell pepper, some Italian parsley, salt and pepper, and fennel seeds.  And of course, you'll need green cabbage (I had 1.5 heads, but again, it's not rocket science, so you don't HAVE to buy an extra 1/2 a head...) and napa cabbage and a bulb of fresh fennel (some stores label this as "anise").    For the braising liquid, we'll be using a mixture of white wine and chicken (or vegetable) stock. 

Now warm up your fingers and sharpen your knife.  Today, there is no food processor and no "rough chopping", it's time to practice your knife skills and make things pretty.  As you're slicing, shredding, and julienning, keep your items relatively separate - you'll be adding them to the pot at different times.

I used a mix of onions, mainly because I like the colors.  Slice the onions as thin as you can (if you're using whole onions, cut them in half first, then slice.  That nice flat side will insure that you don't lop off a finger accidentally).

The celery, apple, and bell pepper need to be julienned.  All that fancy French word means is that you want skinny pretty little sticks.   Since the onions form little cute sticks, and the cabbage slices (as they break apart) make long skinny strips, it all goes together.

The garlic needs to be finely sliced.  The fennel is a little weirder.  Start by cutting off the feathery dark green tops and discarding.  Wash well, if it's too dirty go ahead and take off the outer layer (it acts like a cross between an onion and cabbage, it's got all sorts of layers).  Then slice thin.  Some of the slices will break apart automatically - others won't.  The slices that stay whole need to be julienned like all the other stuff.

Both cabbages can be cut in half, cored, and sliced thin - they'll fall into shreds by nature.  Do not, DO NOT, use red cabbage for this.  Braised red cabbage is a whole other recipe, one involving vinegar so that the cabbage stays a pretty color.  If cooked without enough acid, red cabbage bleeds all over everything and turns a weird bluey-grey color.  Very ick.  

Chop your bacon into a medium dice.  Start in a dutch oven (or similar heavy-bottomed pot) over medium-ish heat to render out the fat.  When the bacon is giving you all sorts of nice brown bits, add the onions.

Give the onions enough time to start getting nice and caramelized before you add anything else.  This will help kill any bitterness later.  Caramelized onions are sweet and sassy.  Now add the peppers, celery, apple, and garlic.  If your pan seems too dry at any point, add about a tablespoon of butter.

Once the celery and peppers are getting soft, add the final tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil.  As boiled cabbage is icky, we need to give all those green enough fat to get their saute on before we add any liquid.  When the butter is melted, add about a teaspoon of fennel seed, and allllll thaaat cabbage.  

Yes, it will seem like a lot. 

Yes, it may seem like too much for the pot.

Don't worry about it.  It wilts down fast.  If you're the nervous sort, add the cabbage in batches, giving each batch a few minutes to wilt before you add more.  Napa cabbage is a lot fluffier than the regular green stuff, it wilts down pretty fast.

Keep adding, it can take it.

Give the cabbage about 10 minutes to hang out, mixing it fairly often.  Then, deglaze your pan w/ the white wine, add the stock, cover your pot and walk away.  Spend 20 minutes sipping a cocktail and figure out how to con your significant other into doing the dishes.

Now, if you are going to be pressed for time, this is a fantastical dish to make the day ahead, which also makes it a wonderous potluck option.  In fact, I think it even nicer after it's had time to sit overnight.  Just wrap it up really well or stash it (with any liquid!  do not drain!) in a covered casserole dish and keep it in the fridge.  When you're ready to serve it, pop it into a pre-heated 350ºF oven for about half an hour, or until is super duper scary hot.  

Shhhhh, don't tell anyone, but I'll even eat this cold.

Really, this is awesome.  People who don't like cabbage will actually like this.  It's got around 98713 mg of Vitamin C per serving and at least 1893 serving of veggies.   And the bacon!  It's not crispy anymore, after spending all that time in the liquid, but it isn't weird and squishy either - it just adds this great texture and of course all that flavor.  

Chapters 2 and 3, all about roasted veg and corned beef, on their way!


This can be taken down a notch to vegetarian levels, or all the way to vegan.  For vegetarian, just take out the bacon.  Start your pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter, and make sure you use vegetable stock.  Easy peasy!!  If you want a vegan dish, omit the butter as well and use only olive oil.  

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