If “Big Cabbage” ever needs a chief lobbyist, it could hardly do better than Cato the Elder (notwithstanding the small matter of his death in 149 BC).
This Roman general, senator and historian loved the cruciferous vegetable the way some people love their firstborn and counted cabbage as a cure for everything from colic to constipation and drunkenness to deafness.
In his 160 BC bestseller of Latin prose, “De Agri Cultura,” he decries, “It is the cabbage which surpasses all other vegetables.” I don’t know if I would go that far, but it is awfully good, high in fiber and versatile. Chop it. Slice it. Peel it. Shred it. Enjoy it fermented, fried, braised, roasted or raw.
The recipes here are versions of dishes I enjoyed in my youth in German-centric Pennsylvania and as an adult in Madagascar and Paris. As the grandson of a horse-and-buggy Mennonite in central Pennsylvania, where the Kmart had a hitching post, I can tell you that cabbage was a part of a lot of menus. The last time I was home, I enjoyed it as a Thursday night café special stuffed in a pig stomach with potatoes and sausage, and roasted until akin to a crunchy, savory football. I skip the stomach and instead pair it with red peppers as a tangy and sweet cabbage slaw. The classic Amish-Mennonite dish uses sugar instead of honey and has no hot sauce.
I was lucky enough to ride my wife’s research coattails as she studied plants at the national herbarium in Paris. We were there two times a year for six-week stretches for a few years. Since I didn’t have a work visa, I fully embraced the life of Riley (perhaps, Pierre) and spent a few hours a day roaming the streets in a personal quest to find the best flan in Paris. And if one is getting a slice of flan anyway, why not pick up a savory tart as well?
My cabbage-and-apple tart uses a classic French crust with a boost of rosemary. It is neither savory nor sweet, but rather hovers somewhere delectably in between.
Cabbage was certainly not uncommon in Madagascar especially as the culture, language and cuisine are more Southeast Asian than African. Pickles are in no way unique to the Greathe Red Island, but there is one place in the central highlands that is famous for a long row of wooden shacks held together with bent nails and hope.
Inside each is a woman pan-roasting skinny smoked sausages. You get a succulent sausage served in an admittedly stale Madagascar baguette. Then you get to browse the collection of pickles for toppings, jar after jar and none of them cucumbers. A personal favorite: thin-cut carrots pickled with ginger. In a waste-not-want-not twist, my pickles use the hard cabbage hearts but still feature ginger. Play around to make each recipe your own. Or try lobbyist Cato’s “hock of a ham ... add two cabbage leaves, a shoot of fern, a bit of the mercury-plant ... one scorpion and six snails.”
Good luck, though; scorpions aren’t really in season yet.
SALT & MUSTARD CRUSTED PORK SANDWICH WITH CABBAGE PEPPER SLAW
Makes 4-6 servings
This slaw is a topping, but it works well as a side on its own. Likewise, the salt-and-mustard crust pairs well with pork, but can also be used with chicken, beef and even fish.
Cabbage Pepper Slaw
1. Cut ¼ of a large head of cabbage into fine slices. Cut large red pepper into same fine slices.
2. Mix dressing for slaw of ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup honey, 1½ teaspoons hot sauce and ½ teaspoon kosher salt.
3. In saucepan, heat cabbage, pepper and dressing over medium heat for about 5 minutes until cabbage wilts.
4. Cool in fridge for at least 30 minutes.
5. Mix in 1 teaspoon celery seeds.
Salt & Mustard Crusted Pork
1. Heat oven or grill to 425 F.
2. Heavily coat a 2-4 pound pork loin roast with a favorite whole grain or strong mustard. Only coat the top and the long sides (leave the bottom and the ends uncoated).
3. Measure out 1 tablespoon kosher salt for each pound of meat. Sprinkle equally over all the mustard (again do not coat the bottom or ends).
4. Roast loin at 425 F for 25-35 minutes until internal temperature reaches 130 F.
5. Remove from heat, and allow to rest for 10 minutes and slice thinly.
1. Cut a soft roll or bun in half. Spread mustard on bottom half and mayonnaise on upper half.
2. Layer thin slices of pork, and top with a generous helping of slaw.
GINGER-PICKLED CABBAGE HEARTS
Makes 1 pint pickles When cutting up cabbage, don’t be too hasty to compost those cores. The hearts make excellent crunchy pickles. This same brine can be used to pickle cucumbers, turnips, carrots, fennel, etc. It’s best to use cabbage hearts cut out of whole heads that have been quartered. Each quarter will make 1 pickle. (Hearts cut from half heads can be too thick and tough.) You’ll have enough brine to pickle hearts from up to 4-6 heads.
1. Scrub ginger root and cut into long slices, ½ to 1 cup depending on taste.
2. Make a brine of 1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup white sugar, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 piece star anise, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and an optional 1 teaspoon caraway seeds.
3. Heat brine over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
4. Add cabbage hearts and ginger, and simmer in brine for 5 minutes until hearts have slightly softened.
5. Pack the hearts, ginger, cinnamon and anise in a jar and cover with brine.
6. Refrigerate for at least a day, and store in refrigerator for up to six months.
SAVORY CABBAGE AND APPLE TART WITH ROSEMARY
Makes 8 servings
This savory tart still has a touch of sweetness from the apples, and it is just as at home on a brunch table as an appetizer plate. And for those who don’t like lot of sweetness, it is a fine dessert dusted with a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg.
Cabbage and Apple Filling
1. Chop ¼ of a large head of cabbage into ½-inch pieces.
2. Cut 3 unpeeled medium apples into ½-inch cubes.
3. Reserve a few slices of apple and cabbage to top the tart later.
4. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper in a large saucepan. Add cabbage and apples and sauté over medium-high heat until lightly browned.
5. Add ½ cup water and simmer and reduce until cabbage and apples are soft and very little liquid remains. The mixture will be chunky (not saucelike).
1. Heat oven to 400 F.
2. In saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons unsalted butter and add 3 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon white sugar, ½ teaspoon finely minced rosemary and a pinch of salt.
3. Add 1 cup all-purpose flour and stir with spatula until lightly browned and ball of dough pulls away from sides, 1-2 minutes.
4. Use fingers to spread dough on baking sheet into a rectangle a little less than ½-inch thick.
5. Bake in 400 F oven for 15 minutes. Crust will be golden, but still a little soft.
6. Let crust cool for 2-3 minutes before assembling and finishing tart.
1. Spread 1/3 cup sour cream over surface of crust.
2. Layer on the cabbage and apple mixture.
3. Arrange cabbage and apple slices on top for artful look.
4. Bake at 350 F for 5 minutes and then broil on low for 2-3 minutes to brown the top.
5. Serve with a sprig of rosemary.