savoy, sweet and savory

Cabbage is a beautiful thing. Underrated, but mysterious and beautiful. A tight loaf (as the Brits say) of interlocking leaves is always a joy to slice through, yielding folds upon folds of spicy-squeaky goodness.  Unfortunately, cabbage is not the most inspiring thing to look at. Even piled high at quaint market stands, it can resemble dull-looking bowling balls.

Another strike against this peasant cruciferae is that it’s not so easy to freestyle with as are so many other vegetables. You can’t really throw it in a quesadilla or a pizza, it doesn’t (as far as I know) compliment pasta, and it can be too brawny in salad. Thus, preparing cabbage usually takes a good chunk of time. Though it’s incredibly easy, you sort of have to plan around it. Good thing it keeps for about as long as it takes me to make those plans.

Enter the Savoy.  I have recently discovered this variety, and hereby declare it the Queen of Cabbage. Ruffled and maze-like, Savoy is a soft and pliable variety that cooks up to be tender and  slippery.

In the last few weeks, I’ve found two spectacular uses for these lacey loaves. The first is from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and best of all, it was prepared for me. It was a Tuesday night near the end of an insane semester. I returned home from a much-needed hour of yoga, and stepped into a house that smelled so good I almost fell back into Savasana (Corpse Pose). Was it apple cider? Not quite. Was it soup? I couldn’t quite place it.

Sputtering away in our big stock pot was a stew-like mess of pinkish green strips of savoy cabbage. There was a subtle sweetness to it all, which I later found out was, of course, apples. The classic pair, those two, only I’d never encountered them so perfectly merged.

The second Savoy success was a French gratin that I poached from Orangette, which she got out of a book on braising. I hauled it along to a potluck on Friday night, where it rounded out our multi-cultural meal nicely. There was Indian “street food,” fresh baguette with dipping sauces, homemade stromboli, baked ziti, chili and corn bread, and of course, plenty of wine. It was all topped off with a campfire-style jam session that went far past the dinner hour.

This is the simplest of recipes, with the sliced up Savoy withered in just-browning butter and some good stock, and then dotted and roasted with triple-cream French cheese.

Fresh out of the oven it looks lazy and marbled with different shades of green. The flavor is robustly tangy and creamy. And how couldn’t it be? You did hear the part about the triple-cream, right? Let the fact that I don’t have any pictures of the final product be the ultimate testimony.

Next time you see a brainy Savoy staring back at you from beside the broccoli, don’t be afraid to scoop it up. You’ll get around to it. And when you do, you might just break into song.

Cabbage Cooked with Apples

makes 4 large servings

2 T butter

2 pounds Savoy cabbage, trimmed and shredded

1-1½ lbs sweet apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks

3 cloves

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock, or not-too-dry white wine, apple cider, or water, plus more if needed

2 T apricot jam

salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice or cider vinegar

  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large, deep saucepan or casserole dish. Add the cabbage, apples, and cloves, and cook, stirring, until the cabbage is glossy, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the liquid, turn the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or more, until the cabbage is tender and the apples have fallen apart. If the mixture dries out, add a little more liquid.
  3. Stirin the jam and season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice or vinegar a few drops at a time, tasting after each addition, until the sweetness of the cabbage and apples is balanced by a nice hint of acidity. Discard cloves and serve.

from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Savoy Cabbage Gratin

4 to 6 servings

3 T unsalted butter

1 Savoy cabbage (about 1 ½ lb), quartered, cored, and sliced into ½-inch-wide shreds

1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, sliced into ½-inch-wide pieces

salt

1 ¾ cups mild chicken or vegetable stock (Swanson’s is a good tasting store-bought variety)

1 ripe Saint-Marcellin cheese (about 3 oz), or an equal amount of triple-cream cheese such as Delice de Bourgogne or St. Andre.

  1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a large (roughly 10”x 14”) gratin dish, or another dish of similar size.
  2. Melt the butter in a very large skillet or medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and scallions, season generously with salt, and cook, stirring, until the cabbage is nicely wilted and just beginning to brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a steady simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.
  3. Transfer the cabbage, scallions, and all the liquid into the prepared gratin dish. Cover tightly with foil, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue to bake until the liquid is mostly evaporated, about 20 minutes more. Then remove the dish from the oven. Cut the cheese into small lumps and scatter it over the cabbage. Increase the oven temperature to 375°F, return the dish to the oven, and cook until the cheese is thoroughly melted, about 10 minutes.
  4. Serve hot or warm, as a side dish or on its own as a light meal with a hunk of bread.

from Molly Stevens All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking

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7 responses to “savoy, sweet and savory

  1. Jen, I loved the Savoy Cabbage Gratin so much that I made it for dinner on Saturday–it was amazing! I used the Saint Marcellin cheese to great results. I’m going to have the last bit that is leftover for breakfast–with an egg. Thanks for bringing it to the pot luck–we were the lucky ones!

  2. Jen, I’m a lover of the Cruciferae, and have cooked it, grated it, and chopped it up so many ways, but I must admit this may be the best. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. At a recent church retreat, I was in a group of women taking turns talking about our daily prayer practices. It came time for an older, quiet, prim-looking woman to speak. I sort of expected her to say “I pray the Daily Offices, precisely in the manner dictated by the Book of Common Prayer.” Instead she paused, smiled a secret smile, and said “Have you ever looked at a Savoy cabbage? I mean, really looked? They’re beautiful. Every time I’m at Wegman’s and see one, I think of God.”

    How awesome is that? I’ll definitely pass this gratin recipe on to her.

  4. These recipes look great -i’ve included a link to this post in my blog about sustainable agriculture, ladyfarmer.wordpress.com.

  5. Pingback: Quiet winter thoughts « Manicures and Cow Manure

  6. did Mark cook the cabbage and apples? Just wondered! These look great. I have never bought a savoy cabbage, only napa. Is there a big difference?

    • Yes he did (back when this was posted) … how did you know that? I don’t cook with Napa a lot but my sense is that Savoy is a bit more meaty. I use Napa for kimchi because it seems softer and more pliable. Savoy is really pretty, and this dish is an indulgence — the cheese alone will set you back about 8 bucks!

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