Thursday, August 20, 2009

Market Finds- Stuffed Red Savoy Cabbage

Summer is the best time to hit local farmers market to buy produce for cooking endeavors. We support our local growers, and help sustain our areas. I have often thought of going for weeks at a time without buying any produce from the regular market to see how we would survive. My plan is to do this next week, but for now I needed a few items from Whole Foods.

As I arrived I put on my 'Stay Focused on the List' blinders. Unfortunately markets pay high dollar for their strategic store layouts, and we fall prey to all the tasty items that lay ahead. Even if we do not really need anything more than what is on our list. Entering the store my blinders flew from my eyes, and my mind seem to spin from the colors ahead...

*Mental Transportation* Recently finding out that one of my favorite eateries, 7 Hills of Istanbul in an area of Jersey called Highland Park had closed after years of great Turkish and Greek cuisines. I had heard that the owner was actually mostly Polish, but that did not bother me; it actually made for a more interesting mix of flavors on the menu. My favorite dish was their stuffed cabbage leaves. Even though it was on the entrée side of the menu, the plate came out with six medium sized rolls of lamb, rice, and tomato sauce goodness.

*Whole Foods Reality Returns* Seems like the past month I have driven down Route 27 where 7 hills once sat, and I think of how I would have like to have stopped in for a plate of my cabbages, but oh well. Darn the economy! I knew I was beginning to feel the craving for stuffed cabbage, so it was off towards that section in produce. A few extra items will not hurt...

What they had stocked were the usual green, Napa, and Savoy cabbages, but there on the end, and screaming out to me was a beautiful head of a purple and reddish curiosity, and it was organic! Would this be sufficient for my most recent craving (that is until I hit the chocolate section).

Cabbage is an inexpensive ingredient, and had become a common site in Tex-Mex restaurants in the early 90’s as garnish for plates, salads, and in tacos. The prices of regular heads of lettuces and greens skied rocketed due to late frost, so to keep plates from being empty they improvised. Many of us were upset over this replacement, but cabbage is actually just as, or more nutritious than lettuce.

Red Savoy Cabbage Information-

The four varieties of cabbage are green, savoy, red, and Napa; also called celery or Chinese cabbage. The most common is the green cabbage with pale green outer leaves and an almost white center. Two main types of green cabbage are Danish and domestic. Danish cabbage is larger and spicier and is preferred in cooking. The domestic variety is medium-sized, sweeter and is excellent for coleslaw. The savoy is considered to have the best flavor. Napa cabbage is oblong-shaped rather than round with pale green tops on the leaves and a white base. Red cabbage has reddish-purple leaves, more of a purple or a magenta than a red and not as popular. Otherwise its characteristics are the same as the green cabbage. Other leafy vegetables related to the cabbage are turnips, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. Note: Chinese cabbage is not a true cabbage and is also called celery cabbage as its long thin leaves resemble celery stalks. Chinese cabbage is of the B. pekinensis species. Cabbage is a member of the mustard family and is Brassica oleracea, variety capitata.

The signature dish of Alsace, only appropriate, is a plate of "choucroute garnie" which means "garnished sauerkraut". Fresh and sweet, offering a delicious, pleasant tang and flavored with local Riesling wine and juniper berries, this sauerkraut tastes nothing like the sour sauerkraut that comes in bags and cans in the United States

Cabbage is one of the oldest of vegetable plants and is native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. The word "cabbage" is an Anglicized form of the French word, caboche, that means "head". The Celts of central and Western Europe are credited with introducing cabbage as a food and were apparently influential for this vegetable's Latin name, Brassica, derived from the Celtic word "bresic" meaning "cabbage". In 1536 in Europe, the true identity of hard-heading cabbage was recorded. At that time and described in this recording, there was also a loose-heading cabbage form called Romanos that was later named chou d'Italie and chou de Savoys for the Italian province. This "Savoy cabbage", a crumpled-leaf type, was favored for its superior qualities and was grown in England in the 1500s. Still a European favorite, the French and Belgians especially prefer Savoy cabbage over all.

Oval-shaped and rather delicate, Savoy cabbage produces crinkled and wrinkled crisp succulent leaves. The color ranges from light green to gray-green to bluish-green and may show a reddish tint. Mellow-flavored, its taste is mild, sweet and deliciously distinctive. So good to the taste buds and palate, in fact, that only a splotch of butter and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper on cooked leaves are needed to delight the mouth. Savoy cabbage and Kale sweeten up before harvesting if left out in a frost.

I grew up associating cabbage with my Irish heritage of ham and sauteed, or German foods, sauerkraut on a brat. Raw or cooked, Italian recipes are also this cabbage's claim to culinary fame. Many europeans do love this vegetable. Alsace, the French region located along the Rhine border, especially adores Savoy cabbage. Driving through Alsace in early September, endless fields of thriving cabbages will be seen. With not a machine in sight, farmers will be hoisting cabbages by the hundreds over their shoulders into open wooden wagons just as their ancestors did.

Prized for its good flavor and considered the most versatile of the cabbages, casseroles, soups, stews and salads love its tasty presence. I will be experimenting with two styles of stuffed cabbage for our meals. In an traditional Milanese county style dish, normally called involtini dicavol I will be using some smoked chipotle chili powder. I learned over time that this cabbage is great with chili powder.

This will be a whole pork loin roast wrapped in bacon, using bread crumbs, fresh whole sage leaves, Parmesan cheese, and seasoned with smoked chipotle power, garlic powder, salt and pepper I rub into the pork loin; served with rice. The only difference is I will not be making individual cabbage rolls for this dish, but I will be wrapping the whole pork loin roast with the redder outer cabbage leaves I have softened in hot water for a few minutes, and very carefully wrapping the larger leaves completely around the pork; covering with foil and baking for forty minutes.

My next stuffed individual cabbage rolls dish is going to be a Ukrainian style. Traditionally called holubtsi; passed to me by one of my senior Ukrainian born clients a few years ago. She had tasted one of my attempts at stuffed cabbage with a tomato sauce and kindly as possible told me it needed bread crumbs or stale bread soaked in broth to make the meat more tender.

She also expressed that it would be great with a sour cream sauce like her grandmother made in the old country. Something she longed for but was no longer allowed in the kitchen, as it was my job now as her personal chef. I seasoned this dishes base of ground pork with organic Jamaican allspice I used in my café and now home cooking, along with black forest bacon*, and onions; then I make a sauce using sour cream, flour, chicken stock, and bread crumbs that are all sauteed together stove top.

The holubtsi, Ukranian cabbage rolls had a nice flavor with the added allspice and sour cream sauce included in the mixture. My rather large wrapped cabbage roll had a spicy kick with the chipotle, but with the bacon, sage, tomato sauce, and other ingredients gave it a nice balance; it is hard to say which was my favorite. They were both very tasty!

*Black Forest Bacon- By tradition, Black Forest ham is a boneless smoked ham who’s technique for curing the pig in a region called Black Forest, Germany; which means that the chef must trim the hind leg of a pig before curing it into Black Forest ham. To make Black Forest ham, chefs start by rubbing the ham in a mixture of salt, garlic, coriander, juniper, pepper, and an assortment of other spices. Each chef/butcher has his/her own spice rub, and or smoking recipes. The ham is allowed to dry cure for two weeks before the salt is scraped off and the ham cures for an additional two weeks. After this, the ham is cold smoked over fir or pine branches. During the smoking process, the ham acquires a rich flavor and a deep red color. After smoking, the Black Forest ham is ready for consumption.

Information provided in this post is taken from various readings and studies from food dictionaries, cookbooks, and my own food history studies through others foodways around the world.