Since the agricultural boom of the early 19th century, cabbage had been one of Ireland’s firmest of edible friends – an easy grower more or less year round and a fine accompaniment to the potato. There are several varieties that appear through the year and during winter time it’s the black cabbage and Savoy cabbage that reign. The recipe ideas below involve the rather unglamorous latter.
The tough, dark, wrinkly leaves on its outside cover what is infact a quite clean flavoured cabbage. However if it is cooked at a high temperature for too long it does, like all cabbage, have a habit of releasing fairly sinful tastes and smells. In fact the Savoy cabbage is as appropriate as any to eat uncooked. Try it in a salad sliced thin, with some shaved salsify and horseradish. Or slice it thin and blitz it up with some vegetable stock, a little cider vinegar and seasoning and then put it through a sieve for most refreshing soup with a drizzle of virgin sunflower oil. When cooked though, unlike the majestic little spring cabbages that need only a toss in butter and herbs, Savoy cabbage is often better off with rather sterner encouragement.
Cabbage, roasted onions and butter beans
Soaking and cooking the beans is quite a long process. It might be worth making more than they need as they keep fine in their cooking liquor in the fridge. Maybe make a dip out of some, or use some for a spicy, citrus, aromatic soup with cabbage and pork extremities. Plenty of options to express oneself besides.
Soak the butter beans in water in the fridge for two nights. (Unless your paying big money for the finest butter beans on the market, they are usually not last season’s beans but where dried a couple of years ago and have no hope of tenderness unless they’re given quite a long soak)
Pop them in a pan with plenty of water and whatever aromatics you have to hand (bay, rosemary, half an onion and a few cloves of garlic for example), a generous swig of olive oil will go a long way for the texture and richness of the beans, no salt and bring them to a boil. Keep half an eye on them as they simmer gently away – skimming and then stirring (so they cook evenly). When they’re proper tender (could be a couple of hours or more) don’t drain them as air will break their skins, leave them to cool, bathing in their liquor)
Try and get hold of some quite small onions (they tend to have stronger concentration of sugar and will work well size-wise for this salad). Pop the onions in a roasting tray with some olive oil, water and salt and cover with tin foil. Pop in the oven at about 160 degrees and roast from three to four to five hours (or if you’ve not the time, a piping hot oven for a little under an hour).
Let them cool and then you should be able to chop of the stem (with you fingers) and give just a satisfying squeeze to release the soft, dark onion what’s been roasting slowly inside its skin.
Its best served cool so that it doesn’t become a stew but rather the flavours stay distinct – though you could perfectly well serve it warm along side some braised lamb. When you’re ready for action cut the Savoy cabbage leaves into quarters, discarding the thick stems running up the middle.
Boil them in lots of salted water until almost completely tender. Drain them and then run some cold water over them, just enough so you can handle them to squeeze the excess water out of them. Then toss the leaves with some red wine vinegar and olive or rapeseed oil and salt. Slowly heat up some beans in some of their liquor, now you can season them with salt and a splash of vinegar, show them just a bit of heat so to soften them and to help the seasoning process. When the cabbage has cooled pop in the butter beans and roasted onions, also slice some lovage leaves and add to the mix (or parsley if you cant get hold of any), add a good bit of Dijon mustard and a some ground pepper (and if you’re feeling excitable maybe a smidgen of crushed anchovy and garlic). Give it a good toss and taste and adjust until you’re happy.
Cabbage soup has perhaps a slightly penitential ring to it. Images of young monks sitting round the convent dining table struggling through their daily bowl of cabbage and water. The French and Germans tend to accommodate by making cabbage soups with shins of beef or smoked pork bones. This recipe is somewhat unadulterated – not going much further than the cabbage, onions and water – careful cooking and the best cabbage and onions you can get will let that be a good thing though.
Thinly slice some onion – about a third of however much cabbage you use. Gently fry it in a pot with some dripping, a garlic clove or two and a sprig of rosemary. Before too long, add your cabbage, sliced similarly to the onions. Season and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for twenty minutes or until the cabbage and onion softens and begins to colour. Then add a little white wine, let it reduce and then some water, barely to cover. Simmer gently and stir until the cabbage is tender. The cabbage will have absorbed most of the water and so it will be more of a stew than a soup perhaps. Serve with some crusty bread, rapeseed oil and a grind of pepper.
Pork belly, pickled cabbage and walnuts
The cabbage will need a months pickling before its ready to use. It’s worth making a big jar’s worth though as it will keep for a year. Put some star anise, peppercorns, coriander seed and a little fennel seed in a pot. Heat the pot and begin to dry roast the spices.
Then add cider vinegar, enough for what you think you’ll need to fill the jar with cabbage in it. Season to taste with a little salt and sugar, bring to a boil and then leave to cool. Cut the cabbage leaves into bigger-than-bite-sized wedges, discarding the thick stems. Fill a sterilised jar with the cabbage then pour over the vinegar when its still a little warm. Make sure it covers the cabbage completely, seal and leave in the fridge.
If your belly hasn’t been brined when you buy it then pop it into a brine for three days.
You could now roast your belly for an hour and a half in a hot oven however, there’s a longer way round though that leaves you with an especially tender belly - a worthy preparation in this dish given the accompanying crisp cabbage and walnuts. So give the belly a good rinse and cover it in a pot with unsalted water. Pop in an onion, celery and herbs and bring to the boil. It can be a struggle with hobs, particularly electric ones, to get things to the right temperature and keep them there.
Best I think just to skim, cover and pop it in an oven of 120 degrees. Slow and steady then, it can be forgotten about for four hours. When its cooled just enough to handle, take the belly out and carefully remove any bones. Leave it to cool in the fridge with a flat weight on top (a baking dish with a few cans init for example).
When you’re ready to eat cut your cold flat belly into portions, lightly salt and fry in dripping or oil in a very hot pan so that it browns quickly on each side. Then serve with the pickled cabbage and gently bashed up walnuts. Maybe also a little dressing made with some of the pickling liquor and some olive oil. A fine combination for a warm sandwich also.
Image by Fiona Hallinan
1206 total views, 1 today