Not sure about you, but the weather here has crossed the line from pleasantly crisp to downright cold at night. That’s as good an excuse as any for some good, stick to the ribs eating. It may sound eastern European, but Italians, too, like their cabbage, especially in colder weather, and like to combine it with pork. The typical Italian cabbage is verza, the kind with fairly loose, crinkly, finely threaded leaves known in English (at least in the US) as “savoy” cabbage, which develops a delicate, sweet taste when cooked. Like other types of cabbage, it marries perfectly with sausage. The dish is not the prettiest thing to look at, but it tastes wonderful, and it warms the body and soul on a cold night.
Ingredients (for 4-6 servings)
4-6 (or more) mild Italian sausages
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 head of Savoy cabbage, finely shredded
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced (optional)
Fennel seeds (optional)
Salt and pepper
Broth or water
Prick the sausages and sauté them over medium heat in a bit of olive oil until lightly browned in a sauté pan or braiser. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
Add the sliced onion and let the onion sauté for a few minutes, lowering the heat if need be to prevent it from browning. (A few drops of water will help things along.) Then add your shredded cabbage and mix it well with the onion. Season well with salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the cabbage has reduced down quite a bit. (You can cover it between stirs, which allows it to steam in its own liquid, which quickens the process.)
When the cabbage has reduced in volume by about half, you can add some diced apple if you like, which gives the dish a slight sweetness. Stir again to mix the apple evenly into the cabbage. You can also add a few fennel seeds, which adds another layer of flavor.
Then add the sausages back into the pan, nestling them into the cabbage at even intervals, and pour in enough broth (or water) to almost cover the cabbage. Lower the heat, then cover the pan, and let the dish simmer for a good 45 minutes to an hour, until the cabbage is literally melting and the sausages are quite soft, too. If there is a lot of liquid left in the pan, raise the heat to high and boil it (almost completely) off. Adjust for seasoning and serve immediately on a warmed platter or straight from the pan.
NOTES: You can use just about any sausage for this dish, although personally I would not choose a spicy variety. The thin, rope-like luganega sausage would be a great (and very typical) choice if you can find it. Otherwise, I usually just use the kind labeled as ‘sweet’ or ‘mild’ Italian sausage in stores. You can, of course, use ‘regular’ cabbage, which would give a different but also very nice result. You could even use red cabbage if you like—not a typical Italian vegetable but tasty nonetheless. The flavorings can also vary—caraway seeds are nice eastern European touch, for example. And if you like, some recipes calls for a dash of white wine vinegar at the very end, which ‘brightens’ the dish and gives it a sweet-and-sour taste. (Others use vinegar in substitution for the water/broth). A number of recipes call for adding some cubed pancetta to the onion soffritto at the beginning, but I usually don’t as I find that the sausage provides enough ‘porkiness’ on its own. And you can use lard instead of olive oil, if you really want to ‘pig out’.
This dish is sometimes served as a hearty soup, by adding much more broth and cutting the sausages into little pieces. The dish can also be used as a condimento for pasta or risotto (again, cutting up the sausage into bite-sized pieces).