With all the focus today on trendy vegetables like kale and Brussels sprouts, we tend to forget about good old fashioned cabbage. It’s cheap and tasty and—just like its more fashionable cousins—good for you. And while most people associate cabbage with northern European cooking, Italians enjoy cabbage, too. Braised Savoy Cabbage is a favorite contorno, or side dish, on late autumn and winter tables in central and northern Italy. In this rendition, pancetta and meat broth add savor, although the dish can be made vegan by omitting the pancetta and substituting vegetable broth or water for the meat broth. And while verza, or Savoy cabbage, is classic, the recipe does equally well when you substitute green cabbage, which the Italians call cavolo cappuccio.
- 1 head of Savoy cabbage
- 50g (2 oz) pancetta, cut into cubes
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- Olive oil (or lard)
- Meat broth, preferably homemade, or water, q.b.
- Salt and pepper
Remove any wilted outside leaves from the cabbage. Split it in half vertically,
then in half again, so you have four quarters. Trim the core from each quarter,
then cut the quarters horizontally into strips, either thick or thin accordingly to your taste.
In a braising pan, gently sauté the pancetta and garlic in olive oil (or lard) until they are both slightly brown. The pancetta should render much of its fat but it should not be crispy. Remove the garlic clove.
Add the cabbage to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and turn until the cabbage is covered all over with the seasoned fat. Let the cabbage simmer, uncovered, for a few minutes, stirring from time to time. Add enough broth (or water) to cover the cabbage. Cover the pan and let the cabbage braise over very low heat for about 30 minutes or so, or until the cabbage is perfectly tender and the liquid has almost entirely evaporated. (If there is still a lot of liquid in the pan, you can simply boil it off over high heat.)
Serve hot. The dish can be made ahead and reheated. In fact, it tastes even better the day after than when freshly made.
Notes on Braised Savoy Cabbage
The recipe allows for lots of variations according to your personal tastes. As mentioned, you can veganize the recipe easily by omitting the pancetta (and the lard, of course) and substituting vegetable broth or water for the meat broth, in which case I would be more aggressive with salt and pepper to make up for the flavor deficit. There is also a ‘red’ version of Braised Savoy Cabbage sometimes called verza in umido: add puréed canned tomatoes or passata di pomodoro to the cabbage after it has simmered in the seasoned and let it reduce before adding the broth. Then proceed as per the above recipe. If you want a more elegant version of the dish, substitute onion or shallots, gently sautéed until soft and translucent along with the pancetta, for the garlic. On the other hand, if you want to go in a lustier direction, you can throw in a dried red pepper (peperoncino) along with the garlic and pancetta; like the garlic, the pepper should be removed before proceeding. You can also use prosciutto instead of pancetta. And if you like, smoked bacon also works very well for a taste more typical of the northeast of Italy.
Pork and cabbage are, of course, an iconic combination. In this side dish, bits of pork flavor the cabbage, but you can reverse the ratio and produce a delicious main course like the sausages and cabbage dish we featured back in 2010.