Cabbage

 Cabbage

Varieties available all year

A cabbage is honest goodness with no pretensions. It is a supremely beautiful vegetable, an absolute work of art visually, and with its tight, audibly squeaky leaves bursting with goodness and vitality, why is it not acknowledged and revered?

The overcooking of former years has made it a much-maligned vegetable in the western world. Chefs and restaurants continue largely to ignore seasons and prefer to offer endless dull green string beans and the ever-in-season calabrese broccoli. When were you last offered a bowl of fragrant, buttered green cabbage in a restaurant? Isn’t it time for a rethink?

Fresh cabbage lightly cooked is full of goodness, packed with vitamins, minerals and flavour and it’s not expensive. So I hope I can encourage you to start eating more of it.

Buying cabbage: Cabbage should always be eaten as fresh as possible – it loses nutrients if stored for too long. An unwrapped fresh cabbage should look bright and crisp, with its outer leaves intact (often if it’s had its outer leaves removed, it was because they were limp, which is not a good sign). The heart should feel firm and the leaves should squeak as you pull them apart.

To prepare cabbage: with a leafy variety such as spring greens, it’s best to discard any tired, floppy outside leaves, then separate the other leaves down to the central bud and place them one by one on a flat board. Then, using a sharp paring knife cut out the stalks, running the point of the knife down each side. When the stalks have been removed, pile the leaves on top of each other and, using a larger knife, shred the cabbage into strips, then do the same with the centre bud to shred that, too.

For a more compact variety, such as Savoy, once the outer leaves have been discarded, halve and then quarter the cabbage lengthways, then cut out the hard core from each quarter and discard. Finally, slice thinly across each quarter to shred it.

To cook cabbage: I have tried every method under the sun for cooking cabbage and I am now convinced that boiled cabbage needs plenty of water. The secret is to shred it quite finely and cook it briefly in rapidly boiling water. What I do is pack it down quite tightly into a saucepan, sprinkle with salt, then place the pan over a high heat, pour in boiling water from the kettle, which re-boils instantly, and time it for 3-5 minutes.

The one way to tell if it’s cooked is to bite a piece, as you would pasta. Then tip it into a colander and squeeze out as much excess water as you can, using a saucer to press the cabbage down. Then turn the saucer on its side and use chopping movements to push any excess water out.

Serve it straightaway in a hot bowl, tossing it with a minute amount of butter, and season it with salt and pepper. One medium-sized cabbage will serve 4 people.

Types of cabbage: Spring greens or cabbage green. Not really spring greens any more, as they are now available all year round, but they seem to have a luscious edge in spring that is lacking in the winter months. Look for small, tender leaves that look perky, sound squeaky and are not too floppy and tired.

Winter cabbages. These are the larger, fatter, rounded varieties. Savoy has crinkly leaves and a superb flavour; January King has flowery leaves with a purple tinge; round cabbage has green outer leaves but gets whiter towards the centre and is good for coleslaw.

Pointed cabbage. This is a lovely variety – tight, green and leafy. Best in April, May and June, as it’s home grown, but still good imported from Spain at other times of the year.

 
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