In the weeks following the big end-of-November earthquake, friends and neighbors gathered with me in the kitchen to cook as a means of distracting ourselves from the seemingly endless aftershocks. We fried up langos, Hungarian-style pizza dough, and slathered it with sour cream, onions and cheese. We baked up meaty hand pies, roasted heaps of vegetables for soups and pulled out smoked fish to stir into rich chowders and dips. Ripe bananas found their way into a cake with mascarpone frosting alongside all the holiday cookies. Making labor-intensive, crowd-pleasing comfort foods, we all seemed to be eating and drinking our feelings.
Musician and Fire Island head baker Carlyle Watt stopped by for a multiday cooking adventure. We sang our hearts out while putting together a huge cast-iron cassoulet, an elevated pork and beans. Homemade brioche, warm out of the oven, served as the perfect vehicle for rich foie gras and chocolate persimmon.
Of all the foods we made this past month, including the Christmas standing rib roast and New Year’s Eve goodies, one dish I keep going back to is a simple braised head of frilly savoy cabbage. Cut into wedges and doused with some wine or cider, and left to think about itself for a good hour or more, it ended up being the most comforting of all, humble and surprisingly delicious.
This basic recipe is open to endless variations. I’ve made several, including one with curry and apples to serve with a garlic-laden yogurt sauce and another version braised with tomatoes, olives and smoked bacon. I like this one as is, with just a drizzle of good olive oil and a little finishing salt. I urge you to include the anchovy (if you’re reticent, start with one), which melts away into the butter and wine to create a rich, flavorful broth. The optional crème fraiche and soy sauce add a nice finishing touch. Serve the cabbage wedges as a light meal or with salmon or cod, or a roast chicken and potatoes.
Braised Savoy cabbage
1 head cabbage, such as savoy (about 2 to 3 pounds)
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine or dry cider (or vegetable or chicken broth, or water)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
2 to 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed of oil or salt, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black (or white) pepper, to taste
1/4 cup crème fraiche or heavy cream (optional)
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce (optional)
Optional garnishes: Extra virgin olive oil and finishing salt such as Alaska Pure Original Sitka Flake or Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
Method: Slice cabbage into large wedges. Tuck wedges into a pot just large enough to hold the whole head. Place the pot over medium-high heat and add the wine or cider. Let the alcohol cook off for a few minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onion slices and pats of butter. Add the rinsed anchovy fillets. Season cabbage with just a little bit of salt and some pepper. Cover and let simmer over medium-low to low heat at least 1 hour. Keep checking every 20 minutes or so to make sure there’s enough liquid in the pot; add some water or broth, if needed. Continue to cook until cabbage is very tender (but not mushy) when pierced with a fork. If using, stir in the crème fraiche and the soy sauce, let cook another few minutes. Serve warm with olive oil and salt, to taste.