"The time has come", the Walrus said, "to talk of many things…
Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings…"
Subscribers to vegetable box schemes are wont to observe that at this time of year you need an unfeasibly large recipe index for brassicas, but isn't that the whole point of seasonal eating? The trouble is that those of us of a certain age have grim memories of soggy greens while those a bit younger have actively broken teeth on the vogue for fashionably 'crispy' (as opposed, presumably to al dente) sprouts. The very young may never know whether cabbage is animal, vegetable or mineral.
The tragedy, in all three cases, is that we are, at best, ambivalent about a vegetable that is quite remarkably good for us. Eating raw cabbage for a week or so can apparently restore high cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure and other casualties of Western affluence, to near-normal levels. I hesitate to go that far in the quest for eternal life (which I suspect could well be worse even than a diet of raw cabbage), but I do think we should have some respect for this upstanding and cheerful green presence in an otherwise drab vegetable patch. We shouldn't snub it for dodgy imported broccoli or bland green beans airfreighted from Africa. We should neither overcook nor undercook it. Most of all, we should grasp the nettle of finding the perfect wine to absorb that dark, metallic tang greens seem to have. That will be its own reward.
I usually head instinctively for any part of the world that makes a speciality of grenache, and very good this user-friendly, if potentially boozy grape is too, along with its cohort, carignan, at coping not only with persistent greenness but also with the bacon, chilli and anchovy deployed to counteract it. For this recipe, I'm heading for the Mediterranean coast between north of the Roussillon and south of Barcelona. Catalan Stuffed Cabbage deserves nothing less and I'm celebrating the centenary of its author, Elizabeth David. Please join me in raising a glass to this game-changing food-writer and get your folic acid while it's hot!
Janet Wynne Evans
CHOU FARCI CATALAN
Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as a side dish
A majestic solution for a splendid-looking cabbage or two and some meaty leftovers, Chou Farci Catalan is a recipe from Elizabeth David's French Country Cooking (Penguin, 1959). This well-used page is splashed beyond recognition, so I have written it as I do it, with metric measurements and a food processor. Chopping by hand does, however, give an appealingly chunky texture.
No instructions are given on how to carve these beasts, but we are told that the best accompaniment is bread fried in dripping. Personally, I'd quarter them carefully and serve with country bread rubbed with garlic, olive oil, and fresh tomato - the classic Catalan pa amb Tomàquet.
- 100g cooked beef or lamb
- 50g bacon, ham or salami
- 3-4 red or green peppers
- 12 black olives
- 15g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- Salt and pepper
- A pinch of mace
- A good grating of fresh nutmeg
- A few sprigs of fresh marjoram or oregano, leaves chopped
- 2 bayleaves
- 6-8 slices thin rashers of streaky bacon
- A little stock or leftover gravy from a roast
- 1 egg
- 2 small cabbages
First find a deep, lidded casserole dish (or two) into which the cabbages will fit snugly - best done before they are stuffed and trussed. Preheat the oven to /Gas 150 °C-160°C/Gas 2-3
Process the meat with one of the peppers, the black olives and garlic. Season well with the pepper and mace, adding salt if the olives are insufficiently punchy. Add the herbs and stir in the egg to make a stuffing.
Plunge the cabbages into boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Strain and cool, and when they can be handled, open out the leaves carefully without detaching them and interleave them with the stuffing. Close up the cabbages as best you can and tie into shape before lowering them into your chosen pot(s). Slice the remaining peppers and put them in along with the drained mushrooms. Top with the bacon slices, moisten with the stock or water and cover with greaseproof paper before putting on the lid. Bake for 3 hours.
MATCH OF THE DAY
Friendly: Côtes Du Roussillon-Villages, Château de Pena, 2012 (ref FC25481, £6.50)
Premier League: El Mago Garnacha Terra Altà, 2012 (ref SP8731, £7.95)
Director's Box: Alvario Palacios Camins del Priorat, Priorato, 2012 (ref SP8691, £13.95) or Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, Les Calcinaires Rouge, Domaine Gauby 2011 (ref FC23991, £14.95)