Saturday, February 23, 2008

rice and smothered cabbage soup

Certain dishes are so lacking in appeal to the eye that their appeal to the belly is all the greater.  One look at this sort of food and you know it's going to be good, because it's not pretending to have any aspirations beyond being as tasty and nourishing as possible.

So ugly it's beautiful pretty well describes this soup, from Marcella Hazan via The Wednesday Chef.  It's just a beige and lumpen bowl of cabbage and rice--until you taste it.  Then it's something close to perfect: hearty without being heavy, the richness of cheese cut by the tang of cabbage, given substance by rice and all smoothed out with a little bit of butter.

An added bonus is that this is a pretty forgiving recipe.  You can use a medium-sized head of regular old green cabbage if you can't find Savoy.  Substitute vegetable bouillon for the meat broth if you like; the soup will still be plenty rich and savory.  And if, following the new-parent principle of not generating any more dishes to be washed than absolutely necessary, you skip the saute pan and go straight to the soup pot to braise the cabbage, you might even be glad you did (that's a pretty large volume of cabbage there at the start).

It's such an easy dish, and so perfect for the kind of cooking that I'm able to do these days, that I like to imagine it was invented by the mama of a young infant in some Italian hill town on a blustery late-Winter day: no time for pretty fillips, just get dinner on the table as simply as possible, and preferably with a maximum of gladness for the taste buds.

It's not quick, exactly, but don't let that scare you off--by some mysterious alchemy it pretty much makes itself.  Oh, sure, there's some chopping to do at the beginning, but that can be taken care of while the baby rolls around on her blanket (or during naptime, if you prefer--even that short last nap of the day would give you enough time to get this dish going).  Next play with the baby for about an hour while the cabbage melts down into tenderness.  Then add the broth and rice, and go put the baby to bed while your sweetie keeps an eye on the stove and throws in the butter and cheese there at the end.

Putting the baby to bed being what it is, the rice might end up cooked well beyond the suggested al dente stage, but I promise you'll still manage to empty your bowl, maybe even twice.

Mid-February cooks take note: pairs nicely with the last few swigs of champagne left over from Valentine's Day.


Anonymous said...

Bless you for that recipe. It has fed us through a serious head cold over the last few days--and with local produce, too, a feat in the frozen north in march!


S. said...

adonize, I'm so glad to hear it! And local cabbage, too-how wonderful.

Guess there is something about cabbage in late winter--we had cabbage again the other night (this time with Indonesian peanut sauce, yum).

Hope you are all feeling better!