It stank, as did the rest of the school, of slowly stewed cabbage. Every Monday and Wednesday, all the years of our scholastic lives, Fanny and her team cooked us cabbage-meat-and-potato. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we had salad-meat-and-potato. On Fridays, the best day, we had sausage-beans-and-potato. All of it reeked of stewed cabbage, even Friday’s treat.
If you’re British, it’s likely you have a similar experience in your own past. It’s odd that of all the foodstuffs we’re reputed as a nation to abuse, the cabbage is one of the vegetables most easy to cook and - in other cuisines - respected and made thoroughly delicious.
Recently, though, cabbage has been enjoying a culinary renaissance, particularly the Hispi variety, that pointed heart -shaped cabbage whose Instagram influencers love it cut in quarters and charred. It’s as good blanched for a couple of minutes in salted water then stirred into very buttery mashed potato for colcannon, the Irish dish, as it is finely sliced and spiced up by quickly sauteeing it with as much finely chopped garlic, chilli and ginger as you like then dobbing it with soy sauce before serving. Either of these go well with a grilled fillet of salmon or a pork chop, or the latter version just with steamed brown rice.
But the common white Dutch football cabbage makes a good sweet-and-sour version, excellent as a side dish with just about any meat. Finely shred it. Heat up a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok or deep saute pan, throw in the cabbage and stir it about quickly to coat it, then toss over 1 teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of vinegar that you’ve previously mixed together in a small glass. Toss all this together quickly so as to preserve the crunch, then serve.
In South West France, however, you should comfort yourself over the approach of winter with its renowned Garbure. A rustic meal in a tureen, this gets even better if made the day before, allowing its flavours to develop. If you want to eat it the most common French way, ladle out the vegetable soup separately with the meats following as the next course and serve with cornichons, mustard, and a green salad. But soup and meats served together make an impressive and substantial one-dish meal.
- 1¾ litres water
- 250g salt pork belly, chopped into large chunks
- 250g white haricot beans (Tarbais are best), soaked overnight
- 1 duck or goose carcass (optional)
- 2 large onions, one peeled and stuck with 2 cloves, the other roughly chopped
- 2 leeks, the white plus 2 inches/5cm green, trimmed and washed
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 small white turnips, peeled and chopped
- 1 bouquet garni
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 250g potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- 175g Jambon de Campagne with its bone, or other smoked ham
- 6 pieces of confit de canard
- 1 small cabbage, shredded
- 6 thick slices baguette, preferably stale, toasted and rubbed with a clove of garlic
Fill a large pan with the water. Add the pork belly and beans and carcass. Bring to the boil, skimming frequently. Add the onion stuck with cloves, turn down the heat and simmer 1 hour.
In a sauté pan over low heat, soften the leeks and chopped onions in butter. Add to the soup with the turnips, bouquet garni, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 45 minutes. Discard the bones, carcass and clove-studded onion. Add the potatoes and Jambon de Campagne. Bring back to the boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the confit and cabbage. Simmer for 20-30 minutes more.
Put a slice of toast into the bottom of each soup bowl before serving the vegetable soup alone then followed by the meats and vegetables as the main course with cornichons and mustard. Or everything together at once for a hearty one-dish meal.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the October 2021 edition of The Bugle.