Cabbage gets a bad rap because it’s often equated with bland sulphurous last-resort soups and an unpleasant ‘80s diet fad.
And that’s a great shame. The truth is Savoy, the king of the cabbages, is one of the the finest vegetables of the season.
A member of the brassica family and closely related to cauliflower and broccoli, Savoys are different to other varieties of cabbages such as white, green or red. Their crinkled leaves, which range from deep green to perky lime in colour, are much more tender. And they have a non-sulphurous, much sweeter flavour.
What’s in a name? One widely accepted theory is that Savoys are so-called because they hail from the territory along the border of Switzerland, France, and Italy ruled by the Italian royal family known as the House of Savoy in the 14th century. The region, now known as the Savoie, developed a distinctive cuisine that reflected its close proximity to different countries. And Savoy was a star ingredient.
In Italy, verza stufata is braised Savoy cabbage with pancetta, traditionally served as a hearty and comforting side dish in autumn and winter. In France, Savoy is used in chou farci or sou fassum (to use its Provençal name). Here, the leaves are gently cooked and then stuffed with a mixture of pork and perhaps some bacon, along with tomatoes, onions, garlic, rice and peas, then simmered in broth. These classic dishes are testament to the fact that Savoy’s leaves - robust yet tender when heat is applied – lend themselves beautifully to an array of different cooking methods.
One of the best ways to enjoy the flavour and texture of cooked Savoy is simply. Just chop, boil in salted water until tender and then toss with a lemon-sharp vinaigrette. Enjoy the pleasing unfussiness of this dish as it is, or perhaps add an egg on top for protein.
Savoy is wonderful thinly sliced and tossed into a chopped salad that’s united with a hearty dressing. Although coleslaw is traditionally made with white cabbage, Savoy is marvellous too: I always make mine with finely sliced apples and carrots in the mix).
Boost your intake of good-for-you greens by adding shredded Savoy to the soup or stew pot, or toss into stir fries. Sliced and fried in hot bacon fat, with crispy bacon pieces added at the end, also makes a heavenly side dish. Alternatively, try sautéing sliced Savoy in butter until tender, and then add a splash of cream and a generous spoonful of capers (or a rasp of lemon zest) for spikey salty/acidic contrast. Caraway seeds are a magical alternative to capers, if you want to ring some changes.
Savoy also deserves a starring role at mealtime, too. Carefully remove and separate the leaves and blanch them briefly in salted boiling water until slightly softened. Layer them in lasagne instead of using pasta sheets.
Another wonderful option is to cut a Savoy into wedges and fry off over a high heat until browned on all sides – this caramelisation enhances the flavour in quite a magical way. Add a splash of stock to the pan – enough to cover the base by a few mm or so. Cover the pan with foil or lid and bake until the cabbage is meltingly tender in a low oven. If you fancy something more decadent, turn this simple braise into a rich and satisfying gratin as follows. Once the Savoy is tender, add a generous splash of cream to the pan and sprinkle grated cheese over the top.Continue roasting, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and started to turn golden.
Savoy’s strong leaves are ideally suited to fermenting in sauerkraut or the Korean pickle, kimchi, as they retain some of their crunch. Both of these sour gut-healthy condiments work especially well stuffed into sandwiches or as a sharp counterpoint to any rich or fatty meal.
Not only is Savoy versatile in the kitchen, but it’s good for your health too; in fact, it’s something of a nutritional wonder. A terrific source of protein, phosphorus, calcium, and dietary fibre, Savoy also is also rich in vitamins A, C, K, B6 and folate.
Savoy cabbage teams beautifully with cheese and cream, lemon juice and vinegar, cured meats, apples and honey, mayonnaise.
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