The English name cabbage comes from the French caboche, meaning head, referring to its round form.
Cabbage has been cultivated for more than 4,000 years and, although cabbage is often connected to the Irish, the Celts brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 600 B.C. Since cabbage grows well in cool climates, yields large harvests, and stores well during winter, it soon became a major crop in Europe.
Early cabbage was not the round head form that we know today, but rather a more loose-leaf variety. It was developed from wild cabbage, a vegetable that was closer in appearance to collards and kale since it was composed of leaves that did not form a head. The head variety was developed during the Middle Ages by northern European farmers.
Taking only three months growing time, one acre of cabbage yields more edible vegetables than any other plant. Other related cabbage cousins include brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and cauliflower.
It was French explorer, Jacques Cartier, who brought cabbage to the Americas in 1536. The explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries carried cabbage in their ship’s stores for their crews to eat and the high Vitamin C content helped stave off the scurvy that was so common among sailors. A pickled form of the vegetable was popular in Europe and the French from the Alsace area gave it the name of “Choucroute” (sauerkraut). It has even been noted that on one of Captain Cook’s voyages, sailors who were injured in a storm had their wounds bound with cabbage to help prevent gangrene.
This is a very humble vegetable, eaten by hungry peasants when very little else was available, but frowned upon by the higher classes who were suspicious of any vegetable. Cabbage was rumored to be the cause of the Plague and should be avoided at all costs. All the while, hungry Irish, Scandinavians, Germans and French lived upon cabbage, and little else.
A single serving of cabbage contains nearly half of the daily Vitamin C requirement and has significant levels of manganese, iron, and vitamin B6. Cabbage also is high in dietary fiber and low in calories, which makes it an ideal food for those watching their weight.
Types of Cabbage
There are over four hundred different varieties of cabbage to choose from these days, from round to conical in shape, with flat or curly, tight or loose leaves in green, white, red, and purple colors. The most common is the round, light green or white head variety.
Savoy cabbage is generally said to have originated and gotten its name from the Savoy region of the Alps that encompasses parts of modern day France and Italy. Today, it is grown not only in this region, but around the world. It is particularly suited to being grown in temperate and colder climates, such as the United Kingdom and the northeastern United States.
When purchasing savoy cabbage, it’s generally recommended to look for a head that weighs more than would be expected based on its size. Choosing a head with crisp, undamaged leaves, as opposed to wilted and/or torn ones, is also generally recommended. Due to its delicate nature, savoy cabbages do not always ship well, so finding one that is in good shape in a typical grocery store can be difficult. Local stands and farmers’ markets can sometimes yield better results, as the heads generally do not have to travel as far.
Unlike green cabbage, a smooth-leafed variety that is one of the more familiar forms found in many areas, savoy cabbage has a mild flavor and is less prone to putting off sulfurous odors. The leaves are also more tender, making them quicker and easier to cook. For example, when making cabbage rolls out of green cabbage, the leaves often need to be boiled before being stuffed and baked. Leaves from a savoy cabbage, on the other hand, can usually be stuffed raw and will cook to the desired consistency during baking alone.
Savoy cabbage is suited to a variety of recipes beyond cabbage rolls. It may also be used in salad, or as a topping for tacos in place of lettuce. Cooked recipes that incorporate savoy cabbage may include chicken stir-fry, savoy cabbage soup and pasta with braised savoy cabbage. In general, it may be used in place of most other types of cabbage.
The firmer texture of standard green, red, and purple cabbages is better for slaw. Red and purple cabbages take longer to mature, so these types are generally not as tender as green or white varieties. Most often pickled, raw shredded red cabbage also makes a striking addition to traditional green salads. Red cabbage can be used interchangeably in most standard cabbage recipes but be aware that the color will leach into any other ingredients.
If the tomato is Italy’s summer vegetable, especially in the south, Cabbage is probably the winter vegetable. Cavolo Nero or black leaf kale, which Italians generally associate with Tuscany: It’s a leafy cabbage that doesn’t form heads, but rather resembles palm fronds, with deep greenish black leaves, have pronounced ribs and whose surfaces have a distinctive bubbly appearance.
My choice of cabbage is the Savoy. It is tender, mild tasting and versatile in any number of recipes. Here are a few of my recipes to try in your kitchen.
Savoy Cabbage with Sausage
Savoy Cabbage with Sausages, or Verze e Luganega, is a classic Italian winter dish. Luganega are slim sausages. The casing is filled, as with any sausage, but then they’re not twisted into links. Rather, the butcher coils the sausage up in a tight spiral, the way sailors coil lines on the decks of boats, and removes a length from the spiral when one asks for it. It’s always fresh, not cured. Though there are north Italians who claim the Luganega as a signature northern sausage, it actually originated in southern Italy, deriving its name from Lucania, the Ancient term for what is now Basilicata, on the instep of the boot. Roman legionaries stationed in Lucania greatly enjoyed it, and took it with them when they were ordered north. Found in all Italian meat markets and many American, as well, though in Italy, it’s often referred to as salsiccia al metro – because it’s sold by length, rather than weight. Luganega sausage goes nicely with soft polenta or on top of risotto dishes. Regular mild link sausages will work fine if you don’t have Luganega sausage.
- 3 1/3 pounds Savoy cabbage (a head)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 cup beef or chicken broth
- 1 pound fresh Luganega sausage, cut into two inch lengths
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- Polenta, recipe below
- Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the cabbage, quarter it, discarding the outermost leaves if they are damaged, and remove the tough inner core. Coarsely shred the leaves.
In a large deep skillet brown the sausage links over medium low heat. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel lined dish. Set aside.
Heat the oil in the empty skillet, add the onion and cabbage when the oil is hot, pour the broth over it, cover the pan, and simmer it for 30 minutes. Add the browned sausage, rosemary and the wine, season to taste with salt and pepper, and continue simmering for 30 minutes. Serve steaming hot over polenta.
- 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup polenta or yellow stone-ground cornmeal
- 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)
- 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Place broth and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add polenta, whisking to prevent clumping. Reduce heat to low. Add thyme, if using, and cook, stirring constantly, until liquid is absorbed and polenta is creamy and thoroughly cooked, 5 to 10 minutes. Add cheese, butter and salt, stirring gently until incorporated.
For Firm Polenta:
Once thick and smooth, transfer polenta to a lightly oiled 9 x 13-inch dish, smoothing until flat. Chill in refrigerator 30 minutes or until firm. Cut into squares and grill, pan-fry, or broil until golden brown on the outside and heated through.
Pasta with Savoy Cabbage, Peas, and Lemon Cream
- 1 pound whole wheat penne or pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Pinch of hot pepper flakes
- 3/4 pound Savoy cabbage, quartered lengthwise, core discarded, and leaves very thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 cup leeks, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup half & half
- 1 cup thawed frozen peas
- 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
- 3/4 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed in a mortar or spice grinder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing at the table
Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, then sauté garlic and red pepper. Add cabbage, leeks and crushed fennel, stirring, until pale golden, about 6 minutes. Add chicken broth and half & half; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender, about 2 minutes.Remove from heat and stir in peas, zest, salt, and pepper.
Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain. Combine pasta with cabbage mixture and Parmesan cheese in a large bowl.
Cabbage-and-White-Bean Soup with Prosciutto
Prosciutto complements the cabbage and beans, but if you toss it into the soup pot its flavor cooks away to nothing. Sprinkle some over the top of each serving instead.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 fresh or canned plum tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 small head Savoy cabbage (about 3/4 pound), cut into 1-inch squares (about 5 cups)
- 1 quart water
- 2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups drained and rinsed canned white beans, preferably cannellini (from one 19-ounce can)
- 1/4 pound sliced prosciutto, chopped
In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Add the cabbage, water, broth, rosemary, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes.
Stir in the beans and simmer until just warmed through, about 3 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle the prosciutto over the top.
Risotto with Savoy Cabbage and Sausage
4 to 6 servings
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 pound Savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
- 2 cups carnaroli rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups lower-sodium chicken broth, heated to a simmer
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add cabbage and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add sausage and stir to combine. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
Add wine and 1 cup broth; cook, stirring, until liquid is mostly absorbed, about 7 minutes. Add 1/2 cup more broth and cook, stirring, until mostly absorbed. Repeat, adding liquid in 1/2 cupfuls, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite (you may not use all the broth). Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter and the cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Savoy Cabbage Cones (ninikbecker.wordpress.com)
- Eat Your Kale (presurfer.blogspot.com)
- Eat Cabbage for Beautiful Glowing Skin and Hair (organicready.org)
- Stuffed Cabbage – Repollo Relleno (platanosmangoes.com)
- Time to chow down on Chow Chow (canucanit.wordpress.com)
- Low Carbon Cookbook – Cold Comfort Food (resilience.org)
- The Brassica Chronicles – Cabbage & Garlic Bean Soup (luffymoogan.wordpress.com)
- recipe | red Cabbage leaf Salad with blood oranges & chives (mellywilliams.com)
- Dream Cabbages (shamanicgardener.wordpress.com)
November 2, 2012 at 8:15 am
Colcannon is also lovely . Here in Ireland we use a creamy mashed potato and mix chopped buttery cooked cabbage to it . Serve with rack of pork chop or sausages
November 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm
For sure that is a delicious combination. Thanks for sharing Eithne.
Platanos, Mangoes and Me!
November 3, 2012 at 9:56 am
Thank you for your visit and for this wonderful post. I will be sure to follow you in the future….
November 3, 2012 at 10:47 am
Thank you for your comment.