At this time of year, when we are still eagerly awaiting the first new vegetables of spring, having plenty of ideas for using good old standbys like cabbage and cauliflower becomes particularly important. School dinners have a lot to answer for, and memories of soggy over-cooked cabbage, particularly the smell, kept me away from it for years. British cooks have long since learnt that most vegetables taste better when not cooked in water and there is no more salient a lesson when it comes to cooking cabbage.
The term “cabbage” of course covers a wide variety of types and I don’t intend to go into detail about them all here. This is a “hungry gap” article, and the types that you are most likely to find at this time are the dark, crinkly Savoy and the pointed Hispi or “spring” cabbage. Kale hangs on until the end of March, although it is likely to need longer cooking to make it tender than earlier in its season.
My recipes start with the basic waterless method I use most frequently when cooking cabbage, followed by several suggestions for varying the flavourings. Then I give a completely different method that involves cooking the cabbage very slowly in the oven with a sausage-meat stuffing. You can serve this cut into wedges as a special accompaniment to a roast, or even enjoy it in its own right as a main course supper dish. Leftovers are great re-heated with cream and mixed with pasta. Whilst on the subject of leftovers, let’s not forget that much loved British favourite, Bubble and Squeak. The same cabbage and potato combination is also the basis of the Irish dish, Colcannon and as this traditional rhyme makes clear the results can be sublime when it is prepared with love and the finest quality ingredients:
Did you ever eat Colcannon,
When twas made with yellow cream,
And the kale and praties blended,
Like the picture in a dream?
Did you ever take a forkful
And dip it in the lake
Of heather flavoured butter
That your mother used to make?
Finally there is a recipe for “Crispy Seaweed” – a dish that appears on almost every Chinese Restaurant menu but that many people don’t realise is actually made with cabbage!