Before I start ranting on respecting your cabbage, I need to thank many of you who read this column. The French Onion Soup recipe that I offered in February has evidently become a huge hit, and several hundred of you emailed me to tell me how wonderful the recipe is. I loved the photos and the stories that you shared. I’ve always thought my job was first to get you in the kitchen, and second to supply you with a great taste experience once you stood facing the stove. Thank you for applauding those efforts with your words.
Now cabbage. Being of Scots-Irish stock, I enjoy the chance to celebrate the heritage of Ireland every March. And yes, I love corned beef especially when paired with some form of cabbage. It might be sauerkraut on a Rueben, or coleslaw alongside a corned beef hash cake, but more than anything, I want it to taste like cabbage. The pungent earthiness of cabbage is perfect beside the brine-driven acidity of corned beef, or corned ham for that matter. What I don’t want is cabbage braised with corned beef, which dilutes the flavor of the beef and the cabbage. I want cabbage that’s bright, flavorful and stands on its own.
“Now Fred,” you might reply, “we know you love your Aunt Janice’s pork-laden cabbage; it’s your first stop at the family reunion table.” All true. Pork, however, doesn’t kill that pungent earthiness of cabbage the way corned beef does. “Yes,” you might say, “but it appears that you’ve goosed up your cabbage quite a bit.” True again, but with flavors that keep cabbage as cabbage and add a sweet roundness to the dish. I didn’t say that cabbage doesn’t need a little help. This is a cabbage taste that will grace more than just a St. Paddy’s Day table, which, by the way, melds perfectly with the corned beef’s salty acidity and plays well with roast chicken, pot roast, grilled pork, and one of my favorite cool-month dinners, pinto beans and cornbread.
My cooking vessel of choice is a slow cooker. The process brings out the essence of the cabbage slowly and intensifies the result. You could do this in a pressure cooker as well for about 45 minutes, or even braise the dish in a 300-degree oven for 3 to 4 hours, but the slow cooker is so easy, just like the recipe itself.
The pancetta, which you can get at any grocer’s deli counter, adds a twist, but it could be replaced with bacon or left out for a vegetarian version. The chicken stock seasoning is in the soup aisle. If you use your slow cooker to prepare your corned beef, you can make the cabbage up to 3 days in advance. Refrigerate and bring to a simmer before serving. At the store or farmer’s market, look for a head of cabbage with tight leaves that feels heavy for its size. I hope you will give this a try with your Irish celebration. I think you’ll find your whole plate will be livelier. Now, as far as the green beer …
Cabbage and Tomatoes
8 cups cabbage, chopped in large chunks, about one head
2 cups chopped onion, about 2 large
2 (14.5-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed tomato soup
1 1/4 inch slice pancetta
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tub or packet of chicken stock seasoning or 1 block of chicken bouillon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon celery seeds
Kosher salt to taste
COMBINE all the ingredients except the salt in your slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours but no more than 8. The cabbage should be meltingly tender. Salt to taste and serve.
Yield: 8 servings.
Serve with: Braised corned beef brisket for St. Patrick’s Day, but this cabbage is great alongside roast chicken, grilled pork chops or a pot roast. With pinto beans and cornbread, it will take you back to the Old South in a hurry.
To drink: Maybe a Guinness, a light bodied red wine or a sauvignon blanc.