It's a great time for cabbage in the North Bay, as freezing temperatures sweeten it. It also seems a bit crisper after a freeze. We have good cabbage year round but it is particularly welcome right now, as we await spring crops. The best is available, of course, at farmers markets and farm stands.
Cabbage is a brassica, a large classification that includes mustard, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, rapini and turnips, to name just a few of cabbage's cousins.
These foods, we are told, are good for us. They are low in calories — a cup and a half of sliced cabbage has just 24 calories — and high in vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients. There's a lot of Vitamin C in cabbage and a substantial quantity of folacin or folic acid, too.
Cabbage is one of the great workhorses of the vegetable kingdom. Raw in cole slaw and other salads, it is delicious, just as it is grilled, braised and even boiled in, say, New England Boiled Dinner or corned beef and cabbage. Fermented, it is transformed into sauerkraut, which has become increasingly popular to make at home.
One of the easiest ways to enjoy cabbage is to cut it into thick wedges, grill it and top it with Italian-style salsa verde or one of the Italian herb spreads (my favorite is the one with lemon) from Rainbow's End Farm. It is so simple and yet remarkably satisfying.
For cabbage recipes from Seasonal Pantry's archives, visit Eat This Now, the column's companion blog, at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
On a cold winter night, this salad is just the thing, either as a simple main course or alongside almost any kind of grilled or braised meat.
Hot Cabbage Salad with Bacon, Black Pepper and Vinegar
Makes 4 to 6 servings
? medium white cabbage
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
6 to 8 bacon slices, diced
? cup best-quality red wine vinegar
3 ounces fromage blanc, creme fraiche or fresh chevre
4 to 6 baguette slices, toasted
Using a sharp knife or a food processor fitted with its thinnest slicing blade, slice the cabbage into 1/8-inch thick slivers, put it in a large bowl and season it with salt and several very generous turns of pepper. Set aside.
Cook the bacon in a large frying pan over medium heat until it is very crisp. Reduce the heat to medium-low, carefully add the red wine and deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to loosen any bits of bacon that stick to the pan.
Add the cabbage, cover the pan, and cook until the cabbage just wilts, about 5 minutes. Uncover, toss the cabbage with the bacon, taste and correct the seasoning. Divide among individual soup plates. Spread cheese or creme fraiche over each baguette slice, set one on each plate and serve immediately.
For a main course, cook about a pound and a half of sausages — I recommend Franco Dunn's One World Sausages — and cut them into diagonal slices. Toss with the cabbage before covering the pan.
If you love Thai flavors and heat, you'll love this salad. But be warned: It's hot, though the heat is balanced with sugar, which takes the edge off.