I think we may need to install some kind of heating in our flat, the monstrously thick walls and tile floors which keep it so cool during the searingly hot Roman summers are still doing a marvellous job at keeping our tiny home very cool indeed. Only problem, it is not August, nor is it 30° c, but proving a rather chilly un Roman December. At home my hands are a funny colour, kind of blue, shivering is the norm and Vincenzo was wearing a woolly hat in bed the other night – the time has come.
So while we get our act together and sort out some kind of heat source, we need to be resourceful in our chilly home, woolly hats are an option, as are fingerless gloves, double socks, my silk longjohns (a much loved and well worn gift from my Mum,) hot water bottles, the odd bout of passionate heated swearing in Italian and my personal favorite, plenty of long slow cooking. Gas bills – boh, who cares, our little cooker is well and truly alive and kicking, providing a bold little flame for almost daily stews, soups, braises and roasts. I am sure this is far from the most cost effective way to heat a flat, but it is a mighty fine one as far I am concerned. Not only does the little fella provide a steady stream of heat but a seductively aromatic one at that, ‘what smell would you like with todays heating madam, a clementine cake,braised beef, no, how about a little aromatic braised red cabbage?’
The braised red cabbage I made on friday was a particularly pleasing blast of warmth into the kitchen, our spirits and finally our stomachs. Vincenzo was initially suspicious and slightly put out we were not having pasta despite the fact we had eaten it all week (the man is Sicilian, he can’t get enough of the stuff.) He remained suspicious right up to the point I brought the steaming pan to the table and heaped a modest spoonful next to his mashed potato (Vincenzo is a vegetable..I mean vegetarian, so did not partake in sausages like the rest of us….good, more for the rest of us.) Suspicion melted away like an icecream on a hot August day, seconds and thirds, of slightly less modest proportions ensued, accompanied by those little pleasurable noises Italians make -and sniffy people disapprove of – when they eat something they like.
I am rather devoted to this, the inimitable Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Braised red cabbage cooked in the Viennese fashion. Aside from the superb name (you have to love something cooked in the Viennese fashion) it is simply a great recipe, deliciously warming and meltingly tender, slowly braised cabbage, emerging with pleasing fruitiness, jammy and creamy notes which are beautifully balanced by the acidic presence of the red wine vinegar. I can be very particular about sweet and sour and too much jammy sweetness in my savory food, but this recipe works beautifully.
We ate the cabbage with some fine, fat, meaty pork sausages and creamy mashed potato - a devilishly good plateful on a cold December night. The sausages simply grilled and straightforward mash provided good honest sidekicks for the rich aromatic cabbage. This cabbage also works brilliantly with roast pork and roast potatoes or even better roast goose or duck. A slightly more everyday use is heaped high on a baked potato.
Like so many slow cooked and braised foods, this recipe is much better made the day before or at least the morning before, it can be gently re-heated on the stove top.
Braised red cabbage cooked in the Viennese fashion
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s book How to Eat.
- A large red cabbage
- a large spanish onion
- 50g butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of soft brown muscavado sugar
- a large cooking apple
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 100ml red wine
- 200ml water
- 1 tablespoon plain flour
- 3 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream.
Cut the cabbage into quarters, discard the outer leaves, cut away the hard central core and shred each quarter finely. I prefer to do this by hand but then I have no alternative.
Peel and slice the onion finely. In a large, deep heavy based pan, gently melt the butter and oil over a moderate flame and add the sliced onion. Saute the onion until it is soft and translucent and just starting to colour.
Add the sugar to the onion and stir well. Add the cabbage to the pan and stir well to coat all the cabbage.
Quarter the apple, core but do not peel, chop it into little chunks and add to the pan, stir again.
Add the vinegar to the pan , stir, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir and cover. Cook over the moderate flame for 15 minutes.
Heat the oven to 150°
After 15 mins add the water and red wine and put the pan in the oven to simmer away for for 2 hours.
After two hours remove the pan from the oven and put back on the stove over a very low flame.
Stir the flour into the cremefraiche or sour cream to make a paste you are going to add this to the cabbage to thicken it slightly. Add a spoonful of the paste to the pan, keep stirring and then add another spoonful, stir and add the final spoonful, keep stirring for about 5 mins.
Remove from the heat, taste to see if you need to add anymore sugar or vinegar to have the right sweet sour balance, or to stop the cream cloying – be subtle though.