Cabbage in general is one of the oldest cultivated vegetable groups, and there are hundreds of varieties, all of which are very nutritious. In China pots that contained cabbage have been found dating back to 4000 BC; in the West the ancient Greeks were known to have eaten this vegetable, and the Romans too were fond of it.
Savoy cabbage is the most tender and sweet of the cabbage varieties with a deliciously distinctive flavor; in addition it lacks the sulphur-like odor that is associated with so many cabbage varieties when they are being cooked (although this is generally due to overcooking). Its crinkly leaves are quite pliable (unlike for instance white and red cabbage) and therefore it lends itself very well to making stuffed cabbage (recipe follows). My favorite use is as a vital ingredient in the famous Italian soup ‘Minestrone' which cannot fail to warm you on a chilly grey day (recipe for this follows as well).
It is tender enough to be eaten raw in salads. A drawback of its tender nature is that it does not have the keeping quality of its sturdier cousins. A week is generally the longest a head of Savoy cabbage will stay fresh in the refrigerator.
A good head of Savoy cabbage will be solid in the center, somewhat conical shaped and heavy in relationship to size, with deep blue-green outer leaves and a pale green center. It tends to be available year round with the peak season in the winter months. Like most cabbages, it is very high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and like other cruciferous vegetables has been proven to have cancer fighting properties.
Growing Savoy cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. sabauda)
As with most cabbage varieties the flavor of Savoy cabbage improves with a touch of frost. Therefore this is best grown in a cooler climate. Sow in early spring in a seedbed in a warm position. It will do best in heavy soil amended with good manure. The seedlings should be planted out in early summer and plants spaced 20-24 inches apart. The cabbages should be ready to harvest from early November onwards - but they must not be rushed or the flavor will be inferior. Once the heads have been cut it is best to remove the stalks as well otherwise they will continue growing and use up valuable nutrients from the soil.
Occasionally the striking heads of Savoy cabbage can be seen used as ornamental plantings.
Italian Stuffed Savoy Cabbage (‘Casseola')
1 ½ pounds of Savoy Cabbage
½ large onion
6 slices of bacon (or pancetta),
4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup of grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Remove eight good looking outer leaves from the cabbage. Blanch them briefly in boiling water and lay on a paper towel to drain.
Chop the remaining cabbage, the carrots and the onion. Fry briefly in the olive oil until wilted but not browned; add the bacon, and season with salt and pepper.
Place a well-drained cabbage leaf on a plate or chopping board, fill with 1/8 of the stuffing mix and sprinkle with half a tablespoon of parmesan cheese. Fold the sides towards the middle and roll the leaf up, place with folded side down on a baking sheet. Repeat until the ingredients have been used up. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.
Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees
(courtesy of: Italian Food Recipes)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 strips of bacon or pancetta
3 cloves of garlic
1 stalk celery
1 can Italian tomatoes
½ bunch of Italian parsley
about 10 fresh basil leaves
1 cup orzo or other small pasta
6 tablespoons parmesan
2 qts of good vegetable or beef broth.
½ head of Savoy cabbage
1 large potato
1 can large white beans
Chop the onion, garlic, celery and bacon very fine. Fry the bacon briefly in the olive oil, then add the other three ingredients and cook until the onion, garlic and celery are transparent. Add the can of tomatoes, the parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer this for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile heat the broth and add the carrots, potato, zucchini and cabbage all cut into chunks, let this cook for about half an hour. Add the onion/garlic/tomato mix to the broth, as well as the white beans and the pasta. Add a good tablespoon of parmesan to each bowl and serve with chunky Italian bread. Serves 6.
Picture of four cabbages courtesy of Floridata