Out of love
This, in case you wondered, is what love looks like. Isn’t it beautiful? In a vaguely Little Shop of Horrors way? Actually, don’t answer that. I don’t want anything to color my feelings for this cabbage.
Those of you who have been around here for a while may remember that I am quite fond of a book called All About Braising, by Molly Stevens. Actually, I’m so fond of it, and so nerdy, that I’ve plastered my copy with a pack of Post-It® flags left over from my half-hearted attempt at graduate school, one flag for each recipe that catches my eye. As of this writing, there are 16 flags in all, enough to make the poor thing look like it’s wearing one of those jackets with fringe that were all the rage in the eighties. I am a little bit crazy about this book. Even more so now that I’ve made the Savoy cabbage gratin on page 61.
It may not look particularly inspiring, but this gratin made me cry last Tuesday night. Our new(!) president(!) may have also had something to do with it, but for now, let’s focus on the gratin. Talking politics around here makes me nervous, but I am always happy to talk cabbage. Especially Savoy cabbage, the ruffly-collared beauty queen of the cold months. Until I tried this recipe, I didn’t know quite what to do with it, aside from putting it in the crisper drawer, forgetting about it, and cussing profusely when it started to rot. But now I most certainly do know what to do, and I think I will do it at least once every couple of weeks, or, who am I kidding, once a week, until the warm months come back from wherever they went.
Here’s how it works: you slice up a head of Savoy cabbage, along with a bunch of scallions. Then you melt some butter in a large skillet, toss in the cabbage and scallions, and let them cook until the cabbage wilts and starts, just barely, to brown. Then you add some stock and bring it to a simmer, and then you turn the whole mess into a gratin dish. Then you bake it for about an hour under a nice, snug blanket of foil - this is the braising part, just so you know - until it goes completely relaxed. Then, then, as though a dish of meltingly tender cabbage were not soothing enough for a cool night, you take a ration of soft, creamy, pungent cheese - Molly Stevens calls for Saint-Marcellin, but I used Delice de Bourgogne, a triple-cream - and cut it into bits and nubs, which you then scatter over the top. Then you return said cabbage to the oven for another ten minutes, just long enough to melt the cheese and make the kitchen smell outrageously savory and complex, causing everyone present, including you, to stare impatiently at the oven door.
Now, I know I said a lot of nice things about those lima beans last week. I know I compared them to cream-braised Brussels sprouts, a type of praise that is not to be toyed with. But I am tempted to say the same sort of thing about this gratin. This thing is a keeper. As Luisa would say, it’s lamination-worthy, even. We were with our friends Ben and Bonnie and Olaiya on election night, and I think Ben put it best. After he took his first mouthful, he looked up from his plate and said solemnly, proudly, “MOLLY.” To get the full effect, you really had to hear him say it, but you get the idea. He liked it a lot. This one is for him.
Savoy Cabbage Gratin
Adapted from All About Braising, by Molly Stevens
A couple of notes about ingredients:
- Good stock, either chicken or vegetable, is key here. The first time I made this gratin, I used a quick homemade chicken stock, and it was delicious. The second time, I used store-bought vegetable stock - Imagine brand No-Chicken Broth – and though I wasn’t sure what to expect, it was just as good. In general, though, be picky about store-bought stocks: often, I find, the chicken kind tastes too strong, too overwhelmingly chicken-y, while the vegetable kind tastes just plain gross. That particular Imagine broth is the only one I really like, because it actually tastes like vegetable stock.
- If you can’t find Saint-Marcellin, use a good triple-cream cheese, such as Delice de Bourgogne, Pierre Robert, or Brillat-Savarin. I used Delice de Bourgogne, and it was wonderful. Just remember not to use the rind: it’s too pungent. Also, don’t be tempted to use Brie. It isn’t quite right here.
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Savoy cabbage (about 1 ½ lb.), quartered, cored, and sliced into ½-inch-wide shreds
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, sliced into ½-inch-wide pieces
1 ¾ cups mild chicken or vegetable stock
1 ripe Saint-Marcellin cheese (about 3 oz.), or an equal amount of triple-cream cheese
Set a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a large (roughly 10”x 14”) gratin dish, or another dish of similar size.
Melt the butter in a large (12-inch or bigger) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and scallions, season generously with salt, and cook, stirring, until the cabbage is nicely wilted and just beginning to brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a steady simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.
Transfer the cabbage, scallions, and all the liquid into the prepared gratin dish. Cover tightly with foil, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue to bake until the liquid is mostly evaporated, about 20 minutes more. Then remove the dish from the oven. Cut the cheese into small lumps and scatter it over the cabbage. Increase the oven temperature to 375°F, return the dish to the oven, and cook until the cheese is thoroughly melted, about 10 minutes.
Serve hot or warm, as a side dish for almost any meat. I’ll bet it would also be delicious with an egg. Or on its own, as a light meal, with a hunk of bread.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings