M.F. K. Fisher once wrote of "vegetable snobbism" - the idea that some foods were tied to social class. In her essay "The Social Status of a Vegetable" she wrote of a middle-class American lady who was intrigued at the look and smell of a dish, until she was told that it was cabbage, and she immediately changed her mind about the quality of the restaurant, since cooking cabbage was something one only found in "the slums." It was hardly a vegetable one would consider serving at a festive, holiday meal.
Yet I love vegetables in the cabbage family. I like cole slaw, cabbage soup, sauteed cabbage; I love the pickled cabbage condiment curtida that's served with pupusas. I love stir-fried Chinese cabbage and its relative, bok choy. I like corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. I even like to eat chunks of raw sweet cabbage along with carrot and celery sticks for crudites (try it sometime!).
And, seriously, look at these beautiful red cabbages I got at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market the Wednesday before Christmas. They're so pretty and perfect for a holiday table.
I wanted to make braised red cabbage as an accompaniment to our Christmas goose, and the recipe I used was the one Julia Child recommended in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." According to her directions, you braised the cabbage in a slow oven for between four and five hours!!!
That seems like a lot of work, but really, once you put it in the oven, you don't have to do anything but wait.
I sauteed bacon, onions, and carrots in the wonderful goose fat we rendered out the day before. Then I added the shredded cabbage, and rolled it around in the fat and wilted it over the heat for about 10 minutes.
Then I added 2 cups of red wine - I had an open bottle of Syrah that seemed to have the right kind of fruitiness the cabbage needed. The recipe called for 2 cups of beef broth, but I had broth on hand from the goose neck and giblets, so I used that instead.
I added a cup of chopped tart apple, a couple of smashed cloves of garlic, some bay leaf, allspice and a good vigorous grating of fresh nutmeg.
Then I brought it to a boil on the stove-top before covering it with a lid and putting it in the oven at 325 degrees.
And then I let it cook for five hours. The recipe in the book adds chestnuts to it in the third hour, but we couldn't find chestnuts in our market, and probably wouldn't have wanted to mess with them if we had.
The smell of the cabbage cooking perfumed the house throughout the afternoon. It was just amazing - even Mrs. Fisher's acquaintence would have been tempted by it. It was rich, winey, fruity, with a deep bacony undertone and not a hint of the sulferous fumes cabbage is sometimes accused of.
By the time we were ready to put the goose in, the cabbage and the vegetables had reduced down to this amazing dark, concentrated rich vegetable mass.
This is what five hours does to cabbage - reduces it down to its very essence. It ain't pretty, but it's darn good. It's worth the time it takes.