Why not give cabbage a chance?

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Copy of cz tony savoy cabbagenu . Savoy cabbage cooked right, perfect with a pork loin chop. Picture: Tony Jackman

Cape Town - It reads like a marketing ploy, as if the vegetable trader had looked at the product, saw that it wasn’t moving off the shelves, and decided to put a spin on it. Hmmm, cabbage not really moving. Seems to be some buyer antipathy towards it. Maybe they think of their gran’s mushy, soggy boiled cabbage when they see one, and turn away to buy some patty pans or miniature brinjals.

Aha. Let’s call it “Savoy” cabbage. That sounds really grand. And posh. Let’s name it after one of London’s oldest and finest hotels, give it a name that rings of royalty and Rolls-Royce Phantoms, of Aston Martin DBs and long afternoons at the polo at Cowdray Park, watching Wills and Harry making mincemeat of the Argentinians. It’ll be just like the Falklands all over again, with a ringing victory for the royal lads out there on the pitch, but here in the vegetable store it will be the cash register ringing as the punters take up the now posh greens.

In truth, that’s not what savoy cabbage really is, but it’s an amusing thought. It’s really a variety of cabbage, and is widely seen as somehow superior to the common or garden variety, with its frilly-edged leaves and a flavour that is a step up from the ordinary.

Savoy certainly wins on texture. It also turns a luscious green when blanched, keeping its colour better than the ordinary variety. I like cabbage for a number of reasons. I like the texture and flavour – given that I never, ever boil it, so to me it is nothing at all like my mom’s. I like that it takes on other flavours so well. And I like that it keeps in the crisper of the refrigerator for up to six weeks. This means that, unlike many vegetables, a large cabbage can be used in its entirety, without having to throw away half or a quarter of it down the line. All you need to do is throw away the outer leaves, which will have softened, or, if it has been cut in half, trim off a half-centimetre layer before using.

Cabbage is certainly a lot better than patty pans. I mean, patty pans. What the hell is that? A silly little round thing with no flavour whatsoever. The texture is horrible. There is nothing blander in the vegetable world. I would sooner eat a cup of sea sand (who knows, there may be a delicious little softshell crab in it). Sure, they’re quite nice to look at. So are Death Cap mushrooms, but you’re not going to eat one.

At least the yellow patty pans have a pretty colour. The green ones have no redeeming features at all. And please, whatever you do, don’t put raw patty pans in a salad, or raw mushrooms. There’s no need to torture your guests if they’re having to stoically put up with your famous lasagne recipe as it is, Daisy.

If you must put mushrooms in your salad, fry them off with some garlic and lemon juice and chill them before use. But I wouldn’t.

As for these miniature vegetables that Woolies customers seem to like to buy, my guess is that it’s more about looks than substance. Most of them haven’t developed their flavours fully yet, and some are barely half-grown.

Baby brinjals look really cute, but there’s nothing to them. Courgettes I get, sure. They have more crunch than the full-grown marrows which lose much of their texture the larger they grow. But baby butternut? Come on. What are they, milk-fed in darkened barns?

They have none of that rich, sweet butternut flavour, they’re pallid of hue, and you’d need about a hundred of them to make that butternut lasagne, Daisy.

You can even get miniature cabbages now, including little savoys, but again, they don’t have the fulsome flavour of the larger version, which is hard to find in Cape Town. Which is why I fell with delight upon a medium-sized savoy cabbage at that lovely farmer’s market in Upper Orange Street, Gardens.

I took it home (they rushed me R20, which I thought a bit steep for a cabbage) and cooked it as an accompaniment for pork loin chops.

You can cook savoy cabbage raw, dunking shreds of it straight into a heated, oiled or buttered wok or large frying pan, or you can steam it for a few minutes first. Over-steaming risks losing some of the flavour and colour, as it drains into the water below, but if you do it for just five minutes and then refresh it in chilled water, then drain it thoroughly, it will be fine.

This is what I did, about an hour before I was ready to finish it, just before serving, to give it enough time to drain. If it is still moist, use some kitchen paper to blot it.

Gently simmer half an onion, finely chopped, in the wok or pan, with a few rashers of bacon, diced finely. Add the cabbage and toss about with two wooden spoons, then season with salt and pepper. You can add a grating of nutmeg if you like, and you could also add some finely chopped garlic when frying off the onions earlier. A herb such as thyme would not be out of place – or cook in a little white wine.

Give cabbage a chance – for that matter, give Brussels sprouts another chance in your life. They are unfairly maligned. You just have to know how to cook them.

Sunday Argus

Read more of Tony Jackman's food writing at www.sliver.co.za

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