As I sat down to write this entry, it only just occurred to me that my lamentations for the Milk Calendar had not fallen on deaf ears. The proof, which is currently hanging on a cupboard door in the kitchen, is a culinary calendar filled with photos and seasonal recipes, that Him Indoors made for me for Christmas just past. Of course, he had a little administrative and technical help from the folk at Lulu, but all the content – the photos, the text, the recipes – was the sweat of his brow and callus of his hand. Sorry, Him Indy! There are none so blind as those who will not see, a wise man once said!
With the signs of spring defiantly bursting forth all over in spite of the bitter cold, I chose to celebrate the arrival of the first seasonal vegetables, the spring cabbages, by trying out the recipe offered by the comely Miss February in my calendar – Scalloped Cabbage au Gratin, by name. I thought it was very magnanimous of H.Indy to include a recipe based upon cabbage at all as he loathes it with a passion that burns as brightly as a ribbon of lit magnesium. (A quick check of the calendar’s particulars didn’t reveal any disclaimers or get-out clauses based upon authorial discretion either. Oversight, perhaps?) To H.I., cabbage was school food, a grey, rubbery punishment meted out by Headmaster and his hench-dinnerladies. To me, although it has already been established that I was an odd child, cabbage was all kinds of *wonderful*. It was coleslaw in the summer and sauerkraut in the winter. It was bubble and squeak, it was colcannon. Boiled in thick slices and slathered with butter, it was Mum’s and my secret indulgence when the boys weren’t home to pull faces. It was the slightly translucent wrapper for fat bundles of holubtsi, or cabbage rolls, which Bud would slit open like the bellies of fish (sometimes smeared with a little tomato sauce for realistic effect) in order to scoop out the rice and meat innards, before quietly palming the emptied cabbagefish skin off to his Nin-conspirator. How could anyone not like cabbage?!
Perhaps this recipe might go a little way towards making reparations for this much maligned vegetable. H.I. reluctantly admitted that it was “all right” for a cabbage dish but added the disclaimer that its edibility was directly correlated to its top layer of cheese and crumb. Gratiné, he pronounced loftily, makes anything edible. I’ll file that information away for further exploitation later! The end result was a simple, warming and fresh-tasting side dish, easily prepared and homey. In my opinion, it’s perfect for this time of year as the new season desperately battles to gain a foothold in winter’s domain. Winter’s implacable resistance to change can make these early days of spring a treacherous and chilly time, so we may not collectively be ready to sit down before bowls of warm-weather slaw. This dish offers a compromise; you get your fresh, seasonal (and preferably local) veg only recently plucked from its bed and you get it prepared in a manner usually reserved for wintry fare, for the express purpose of cockle-warming. Just don’t boil your cabbage until it’s as grey-faced as old dishwater. Try it as a part of your St. Patrick’s Day feast! I mean, you’ve got to invite someone from the cabbage family ’round for St. Paddy’s – I reckon it’s a law – so it may as well be this hooligan!
Scalloped Cabbage au Gratin
(from H.Indy’s Calendar of Seasonal Food)
2 lb cabbage, coarsely shredded (savoy, pointed or white cabbage)
2 cups tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped (tinned tomatoes also works a treat)
2 tsp sugar (white or brown)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2-3 tsp butter
1/2 – 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1. Preheat your oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Cook the cabbage in boiling, lightly salted water for about 5-6 minutes, or until slightly wilted but still lovely and green. Drain well, and then plunge in cold water to stop it from cooking further.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the tomatoes, sugar, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper.
4. Place the drained cabbage into a greased 2.5 pt/1.5 L baking dish. Dot the cabbage with a few teaspoons of butter and then cover it with the tomato mixture, followed by the cheese and then the breadcrumbs.
5. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until heated through and the cheese and crumb topping is golden and bubbling.