Market Matters- Chomping at the the Savoy

savoy cabbageThis week at the Hollywood Farmers Market I chose cabbage. Not just any cabbage but the tastiest most prized cabbage of the entire Brassicaceae/Cruciferae family. Savoy cabbage. 

I live in Southern California. There are only a couple of weeks a year that are not considered “growing season” in my particular Sunset: Western Garden zone 23 neighborhood. And those couple of weeks usually fall in January. So you really need to adapt yourself to the season and choose things that are at their peak right now.

One of these things is cabbage. Cabbage is wonderful. It has a slightly spicy taste. It is very high in calcium, and very high in vitamin‑C. So it really is a good choice for the “cold and flu season”!

But what do you do with cabbage? 

Well have you considered cabbage soup? I know what you are thinking – “Cabbage Soup? What year do you think this is Greg”? Besides (you opine) cabbage cooks up all stinky and slimy.

I used to share your trepidation. But what I have found out is that this is not your Grandmother Magda’s boiled cabbage. No it isn’t, and the key to this discovery is Savoy cabbage.

I have a rather long and convoluted story that explains how I become a “cooked” cabbage convert.

It starts almost a year ago to the day. I was at the beginning of a 6‑month kitchen remodel. 

I could not cook at all. So naturally I thought about it all the time. I mean that’s normal right?

One of my little obsessions during this time was Evan Kleiman’s weekly radio show on KCRW, Good Food. This woman seems to understand how I tick, so it’s a very self-congratulatory experience for me! In other words I rarely miss it! You should podcast it, I do.

Anyway, anyway, anyway…about a year ago I was listening to her show. They were interviewing Mark Peel the chef-owner of Campanile restaurant here in Los Angeles. 

He was such an advocate of the Savoy. So much so that is has really stuck with me all this time. He was advocating a cabbage soup of sautéed chiffanades of Savoy with a little onion and garlic in a light chicken broth. He suggested additions of potatoes or noodles. The rest gets a bit hazy.

If it had been anyone other than Mark Peel I would have dismissed the whole thing as the rantings of a crackpot. I remember fearing what that mess would smell like.

It certainly seemed counter-intuitive to me. But because of my regard for his restaurant and his talent, this cabbage soup idea kinda stuck in my head for a whole year. But I never made it.

And whaddaya know? This week on Good Food Mark Peel is back and he’s still pontificating about that Savoy soup. One year later and he can’t stop talking about it. I am not alone in my neurosis!

Well naturally that just sent me over the edge. I knew for this week’s Market Matters I would have to do that soup.

So I did and it was fabulous. I am here to convince you to try it too! But don’t take a year doubting and wondering – seesawing back and forth between fear and wonder like I did. Get yourself a Savoy and do this thing. It’s even surprisingly easy!

The Savoy variety is a bit harder to find than your standard cabbage; and much more seasonal. So the time is now. It is a beautiful emerald green. According to Mark Peel “it looks like a giant corsage”, a big frilly green corsage, not unlike the one that accompanied you to your senior prom!

This year though Mark contradicts himself. And I think it’s a good thing. I specifically recall him saying last year to sauté the cabbage with a little onion and garlic. This year he says garlic “doesn’t really go” with cabbage.

cabbage soupBut it does go with bacon. And that’s where we start.

Per Mark Peel, I took 8 slices of bacon and chopped them into 1‑inch pieces.  I tossed them into a stainless steel 5.5 qt sauce pot and browned them until they just became crisp in a little olive oil. Oil in a pan to cook bacon may seem a little redundant, but I find it helps the bacon cook a bit more evenly when I am not using my lovingly seasoned cast iron skillet.

To the bacon I added thinly sliced chiffanades (slaw style) from half a Savoy, and 3 thinly sliced carrots. I then sautéed the veggies until softened somewhat. To these I added the coarsely chopped white and light green interior stalks of a bunch of celery, leaves and all.

Then I added 2 cups of chicken broth and six cups of water and gently simmered the mix about 1/2 hour. I tasted for seasoning and decided on about 1/4‑teaspoon salt and a big, big heaping of freshly cracked black pepper. I kept the soup on low heat another 6 or 7 minutes to bring the seasoning into balance.

I served up a hearty portion with another hefty grinding of black pepper and a chunk of crusty bread. It was spectacular! 

I cannot say enough good things about this soup. Really, even now I can’t stop. It is that good. It is so pretty to look at too. It has a sweet, but peppery, aroma with the rich heady undercurrant of smoky bacon. Did I mention how much I liked it? It is both oddly rich, despite how light it is, and deeply nuanced in flavor. Really good. (If Mark Peel does say so himself!) and he does and so do I! Now shut up and eat Greg…

Like this story? Then say it: Gustoso!

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Greg Henry