Regina Schrambling's Pizzocheri
March 03, 2006
My subtitle for this post: A Tale of Two Cabbages. Or rather, A Tale of One Cabbage, Two Ways. Growing up in Berlin, cabbage was a familiar vegetable, to say the least. I had the privileged experience of being enrolled in a school where the lunch menu was something to look forward to. When I have the pleasure of smelling food that reminds me of my school cafeteria it's a fond memory and not a nose-wrinkling one. Cabbage featured prominently there (Kohlrouladen, anyone?), but also at my home-away-from-home where I wiled my afternoons away learning how to bake and sew (and escape sibling-torture to the tune of "I'm going to tie you to this chair with boy-scout knots and you have two minutes to escape, at which point, if you are still bound to the chair, I will tickle you into paralysis while "Stairway to Heaven" rings from the record player") at the knee of my honorary mother, Joan.
Joan's ways with cabbage are the stuff of dreams: no one who grew up eating her Brussels sprouts, her braised red cabbage with apples or her Savoy studded with tiny bits of salty ham could ever have an aversion to this vegetable. So when Regina Schrambling wrote an article on Savoy cabbage in the LA Times last week, I was thrilled to see that all three recipes she included looked mouth-watering to me. I don't usually find it so difficult to choose which recipe from any given article to cook, but this time around I was stumped. So I made two...and while neither one blew my socks off, I'm determined to make the third one as well.
Pizzocheri, a northern Italian baked casserole of chopped cabbage, sliced potatoes, chunks of Taleggio, and wide pasta all bathed in a sage-and-garlic scented butter sauce, was a bit too oily and flat for my taste. I had halved the recipe but didn't use a smaller baking dish, and I wonder if it might have been more appealing as a thick casserole. There was something disjointed about the whole thing: potato slices flying about, noodles slipping away, bits of cabbage here and there. I was in too much of a rush to search out buckwheat pasta and settled for egg tagliatelle - I think the dish probably has more character with the former. There was nothing really terribly wrong with it, but I probably won't make this recipe again. It just didn't blow me away.
But I still had quite a bit of cabbage left over from that meal, so last night I prepared Braised Savoy Cabbage with Anchovies (making the most of the fact that Ben isn't around to have dinner with me and thereby fall over in a dead faint from the sheer outrage of the presence of an anchovy anywhere near his being), while I scurried about my apartment washing clothes and packing for a trip of my own. The recipe required two saute pans, which sort of irritated me, but that was mostly because I didn't feel like having my dinner-for-one become a big deal. I simmered the cabbage quarters in chicken stock, while anchovies and garlic melted in the other pan, then tossed everything together and let it caramelize.
The result was quite pretty and would be tasty as the accompaniment to some simple roast sausages and a dollop of pureed potatoes. But for some reason, the pan brimming with braised cabbage and all those strong flavors was a little overwhelming last night and I couldn't eat more than a forkful or two. So I guess my critique says more about my state of mind than the dish itself. I won't discount it just yet. And with that, dear readers, I leave you for a few days while I fly over the ocean to do some work and eat one too many cheese-and-pickle sandwiches in yet another convention center. When I'm back, I'll get around to the Sausage-Stuffed Savoy Cabbage, if only to relive my memories of being an eager child in the lunchline.