Two hours. In two hours you can do your laundry, pop a bowl of popcorn and watch an entire episode of Miss Marple, meet a friend for a leisurely lunch. It turns out that in two hours you can also transform a humble head of cabbage, which will cost you roughly $2, into something fairly well sublime. First, you must sharpen your knife. You’re going to take the head of cabbage and remove the outer leaves, and then slice down one side of it making thin, paper-thin shredded slices, until you reach the core. Then you’ll lay it on that flat side and slice down another side until you reach the core. You’ll do this five times—four sides plus the top—until what you have left is a cube of cabbage core and a giant bowl of thinly shredded cabbage. Doing this is a meditation, if your knife is sharp. If you knife is not sharp, it is a chastisement. What did you do wrong? Think about it. It will come to you. It is Lent, after all.
I cannot tell you what happens inside the pan that transforms this most humble of brassicas into something sweet, yet not slimy. Maybe it involves quantum mechanics, or Maxwell’s demon. I could not say. What I do know is that the produce section of the supermarket is loaded with inexpensive cabbages after St. Patrick’s Day. And if there were ever a dish that is the exact opposite of boiled wedges of cabbage in every respect, this is that dish. Even better is the fact that cabbages will keep a good old time in the crisper of your refrigerator. I like to have one on hand for nights when the vegetable for the meal has not yet revealed itself to me. The trick is getting home early enough to let this cook along while the rest of the meal is emerging.
When it is cooked, does it look pretty? No, it does not. But it is March. There are no vegetables. We have had our flings with rutabagas, parsnips, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts. Those days are over. It is the time of year when I discover anew that the winter of my discontent actually occurs fairly near the vernal equinox. On an evening when you have the leisure to let something simmer away for two hours, I hope you make this smothered cabbage, and ponder sunnier glories.
Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan; serves 6 or so as a side dish
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, trimmed, and thinly sliced
- 3 fresh cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- five to six cranks of freshly ground pepper
- 1 head of green or Savoy cabbage, about 2 to 3 pounds, thinly shredded
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1. In a large, heavy casserole pan with a lid, warm the onion, garlic, and olive oil over medium heat. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until very soft and onion is beginning to turn gold. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and give a few more turns. Add shredded cabbage, tossing completely together five or 10 times. Add red wine vinegar, toss three or four more times, and add the lid.
2. Reduce heat to lowest setting and cook for two hours. You can do something else. Come back every 30 minutes and give it a good tossing. If it is getting dry, sticking, or browning, add 1/4 cup water, and stir. After two hours have passed, remove from heat and serve. I like it with roast chicken, or pork roast, or sausages, or chops.