Let me get the obvious out of the way: you are not going to win friends, neighbors with whom you share airspace or small children over with cabbage casserole. It’s beige and gray with traces of drab green. It’s cooked forever, or until whatever vim and vigor may have initially been in the leaves has departed. At best, it’s akin to unstuffed cabbage, which means that it will be comfort food to some but torture to others.
However, if you are of the sort that has not yet been deterred (as you can see, I did my best), I have exactly the right thing for us to fill ourselves with on this face-freezing week of January* This preparation comes from the late, great English food writer Jane Grigson, whose writing and recipes I enjoyed long before I learned that she shares my disdain for beets —
We do not seem to have had much success with the beetroot in this country. Perhaps this is partly the beetroot’s fault. It is not an inspiring vegetable, unless you have a medieval passion for highly coloured food. With all that purple juice bleeding out at the tiniest opportunity, a cook may reasonably feel that beetroot has taken over the kitchen and is far too bossy a vegetable.
— but, I won’t lie, even more so since. It’s in this same book, her Vegetable book, that she writes about Stuffed Cabbage in the Trôo Style, one of the — because I want you to be aptly warned of exactly what you are dealing with here — five stuffed cabbage recipes in the chapter. She speaks of visiting her neighbor who was making chou farci for her grandaughters that were coming to supper and being surprised when she peered under the lid not to find a big round stuffed cabbage but a flat layer of leaves. Madame Glon, the neighbor, insisted that this “quick” method was just as good as the classic one (a whole cabbage, stuffed) and made a convert out of Grigson.
Grigson then, in the year 1978, answers several questions I anticipate internet commenters to ask in the year 2016, saying that she’s made it with various spicy and aromatic additions such as tomatoes, bits of bacon, herbs and so on, but has rejected them in favor of the “Trôo simplicity cabbage, good sausagemeat and butter,” which I — a dweller of the Lower East Side of Manhattan some 3600 miles away, where simplicity usually means limiting oneself to a single type of chile paste, imported sea salt and heirloom vegetable — hadn’t considered my dinner priorities until that exact second. As my year’s theme so far is seeing something good and making it as soon as humanly possible we had it for dinner that very night, heaped on thick slices of whole wheat sourdough slathered with coarse Dijon mustard and now you can count us among the converts not just to the dish, but the idea that there’s a time and place for unfancy, unpretty, unpopular food too.
* when the other three tabs open in my browser are, predictably: 1. out-of-my-budget arctic parkas, 2. clever new ways to add even more cheese, sour cream and butter to baked potatoes, and 3. a friend’s torturous beach vacation photos
One year ago: Key Lime Pie and Fried Egg Salad
Two years ago: Chicken Pho and Pear and Hazelnut Muffins
Three years ago: Gnocchi in Tomato Broth and Lentil Soup with Sausage, Chard and Garlic
Four years ago: Buckwheat Baby with Salted Caramel Syrup
Five years ago: Baked Potato Soup
Six years ago: Poppy Seed Lemon Cake and Black Bean Soup with Toasted Cumin Seed Crema
Seven years ago: Almond Vanilla Rice Pudding and Light Wheat Bread
Eight years ago: Pickled Carrot Sticks
Nine years ago: Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes and Cauliflower and Brussels Salad
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Look What Else We Baked! :)
1.5 Years Ago: Easiest Fridge Dill Pickles and Grilled Peach Splits
2.5 Years Ago: One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes
3.5 Years Ago: Peach Pie
4.5 Years Ago: Whole Wheat Raspberry and Ricotta Scones
A few notes: I found the Day-Lewis yield take on recipe to be almost impossible to work with (you’ll need two giant pots to blanche 4 pounds cabbage, and at least 2 lasagna pans to bake it) so I halved it. A few NYT commenters said they found it easier to pour a kettle or two of boiling water over the cabbage in a colander rather than boiling it in a pot of water, but I did not, mostly because there was so much cabbage and my kettle is tiny. And while the ideas you can springboard off the recipe are almost countless — brats and red cabbage, a heap of spices, more vegetables — there’s a lot to be said about a 4-ingredient dish that will keep you warm for a long time. Just don’t skimp on the seasoning. Salt and pepper, confidently applied, will keep this dish from falling asleep.
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound fresh sweet Italian pork sausages or bulk sausage meat
1 large green or Savoy cabbage (2 pounds), cored and thickly shredded
Freshly ground black pepper
Crusty bread and coarse mustard, for serving
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and butter a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. If using sausages, remove casings and discard them.
Place cabbage in boiling water, cover, and let water come back to the boil. Uncover and boil for 3 minutes. Drain cabbage in a colander and run cold water over it to stop cooking. Drain well.
Put about 1/3 of the cabbage in buttered dish and cover with 1/2 the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dot with butter. Repeat, ending with a final layer of cabbage, and dot top with butter.
Cover dish tightly with a layer of parchment paper (commenters who skipped the parchment said that their vegetables discolored against the foil), then top with a lid or a layer of aluminum foil. Cook for about 2 1/2 hours, until cabbage is soft and sweet, and top is lightly browned. After 2 hours, uncover the dish; if there is a lot of liquid in the bottom, leave uncovered for the rest of the cooking time. If not, re-cover and finish cooking. In our case, there was not a lot of liquid but I hoped to get a little color on the top so left it uncovered for the remaining time.