That basketball of a green cabbage lounging in the produce department has a lot going for it. It’s a nutritional powerhouse, it feeds an army, it’s economical and lasts for weeks in the fridge.
But you really must meet its sophisticated cousin, the savoy. It’s the pretty one, more oval in shape and clad with layer upon layer of crinkly leaves in shades of designer green.
Though all those ruffles may look a little rough, the savoy is actually the most tender and sweetest member of the cabbage family. And it’s far too well-bred to give off any rotten-egg smell during cooking, which some may recall from the sadly overcooked green cabbage of their youth.
The only drawback is that it’s more fragile than the spicy, sturdy cabbage we grew up with, so don’t let it languish in the fridge.
Fortunately, its mild, tender leaves make it perfect for any cabbage recipe, raw or cooked. Shred it into a salad or cole slaw, sauté in butter for a quick side dish or remove the flexible leaves easily to make cabbage rolls.
Nobody will turn up their nose at this vegetable beauty.
A traditional winter vegetable, savoy got its name from the region of Savoy in the Western Alps where it originated centuries ago, an area now shared among France, Italy and Switzerland.
To your health
Like other members of the brassica oleracea family, savoy is chock-full of nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants. Low in calories, with no fat or cholesterol, it’s a good source of fibre and rich in vitamins and minerals, from Vitamins A, B and C to magnesium and potassium.
- Choose cabbage that’s heavy for its size with tightly packed leaves and no signs of yellowing.
- Remove any limp outer leaves before using.
- Refrigerate whole, tightly wrapped in plastic, for up to two weeks.
- Once cut, use within a few days.
- Don’t wash cabbage until you’re ready to use it.
- Remove outer wilted leaves and rinse head under cold water.
- Core cabbage before cooking or shredding.
- To core a whole cabbage, place upside down with stem facing up. Cut around the core with a thin paring knife and remove in one cone-shaped piece.
- Shred cored cabbage by cutting in half or quarters and crosscutting thinly. It will shred itself! If shreds are too long, cut in half.
- Cook until crisp tender to soft, not mushy.
- Serve savoy as a sophisticated side for duck, pork, liver and fish.
- Stir bite-sized pieces of cooked cabbage into mashed potatoes.
- Savoy pairs well with red wine, apples, onions, horseradish and warm Indian spices such as cumin and fennel seeds.
- Use raw leaves as a wrap.
- Slice leaves thick or thin for salads and stir-fries, stews and soups.
- For a simple side, melt butter over medium-high heat and add cabbage chopped in bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with salt and a few spoonfuls of water. Reduce heat and cook until tender and liquid is absorbed. Check seasoning and serve hot or warm.
- Stuff leaves for cabbage rolls or wrap around salmon before baking.
Savoy Cabbage Gratin
You can make this sweet, mild casserole a day ahead, bring to room temperature and pop in the oven before serving. Great as a side dish with sausages or a light lunch.
1 head savoy cabbage (about 2 lb/1 kg)
1 large onion, peeled, cut in half lengthwise
4 tbsp (60 mL) butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (125 mL) chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) pepper
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground nutmeg
2 tbsp (30 mL) all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) milk
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated Gruyère cheese
1/4 cup (60 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh parsley
Cut cabbage in quarters. Cut out and discard core. Thinly slice cabbage lengthwise. Set aside.
Thinly slice onion halves crosswise.
In large, ovenproof casserole, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir for another 2 minutes.
Add the huge mound of cabbage (it will cook down!), stock, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted and tender, about 15 minutes.
Sprinkle flour over top and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Slowly add milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thick, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a greased 2 L baking dish.
Melt remaining butter and combine in a small bowl with bread crumbs, cheese and parsley. Spread evenly over cabbage mixture.
Bake in 400 F (200 C) oven until bubbling and topping is golden, about 20 minutes.
Makes 6 servings.