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Cold Weather Basics: Cabbage

When it’s cold – polar vortex cold – we tend to crave comfort and warmth. Well I do anyway. And in the cold season, when fresh produce is severely limited, cabbage comes into its own. Cabbage, often disdained in summer months, is the cold weather salvation. So say I.

Behold: Green cabbage with onion and breadcrumbs.

I make this dish differently every time I make it, and can’t quite reconstruct anymore how exactly I made it last time. But when it works out the way it should, it is a supreme cold-weather comfort dish. Sweet and savory, filling, and reminiscent of childhood comforts like a the embrace of your favorite warm blanket.

Start With: One green cabbage and one onion – Depending on the size of your cabbage and the number of diners, either use a whole head or half of one. You want less onion than you have cabbage, so pick a yellow onion that is the right size. Medium ought to do it, though small is good too, if you’re just in it for yourself with a baby cabbage. [Note, you will also later need some bread crumbs.]

Slice the cabbage into thin shreds. Use a big knife if you feel comfortable, or a mandolin. Thinly sliced is best, and you can chop that down a bit further if you like. Cut the onion in half and then again so you have four pieces. Slice thin. Thin is better here. As thin as you can but don’t cut yourself.

The process: Begin heating a heavy-bottomed large pan (larger, there never seems to be enough room) over medium-low heat. Twelve inches at least but 15 would work better. I like my enameled cast-iron sautee pan for this but use what you have. Let a generous amount of olive oil and a good tbs of butter melt together. Don’t get it too hot, you do not want it be smoking.

Add the slices onion, stir to coat. And now comes the hard part. Let the onion cook and mellow over the medium-low heat. You are not looking to brown and crisp the onion (though that would be yummy too, probably. So try that if you want), but to melt it into near caramelization. I usually lack the patience for this, but I can manage it by walking away from the pan for 5 minutes and getting caught up in my email or organizing my music collection or something. Beware not to get too caught up and let things burn. You should stir once or twice and give the onions maybe 10 minutes in the pan.

Then add the cabbage. Stir until everything is coated and mixed. You could add a splash of sherry here. I do and I don’t, but I think it works well when I do. Turn the heat up a bit for the cabbage. Salt is ok too here. You could try some herbs, like herbs de provence or maybe thyme or sage. But plain is fine because the onion and the cabbage will bring the comforting, mild yet deep flavor of golden green sweetness. Walk away from the pan again for a few minutes. Let things meld. Be patient but keep an eye on things.

Add a bit more butter. Now add in some bread crumbs – panko are great here – about a tbs or more, and stir. This is your Parmesan substitute and adds a bit of crunch and texture. Of course, you could also add actual Parmesan, if that would make you happy. But it is not strictly necessary.
While all of this is going on, I suggest you put a big pot of water to boil and cook some spaghetti to your preferred level of doneness (al dente).

Once the cabbage and onion have melded and the breadcrumbs look toasty, serve this over the spaghetti with a bit more butter if you like. Mix together, toss around. Salt and pepper to your liking. Enjoy. And stay warm.

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