Once upon a time, I did not like cabbage. That’s actually an understatement. I didn’t just not like it, I loathed it.
I had limited experience with cabbage, but enough to make a sweeping judgment against it. The cabbage of my childhood was cole slaw – deli cole slaw — the kind that oozes with thin, milky mayonnaise. My mother adored it! She mixed in ketchup, or something equally vile, slathered it on sandwiches, and called it Russian dressing. I was not convinced.
In college, I lived in a dorm with kitchens. The students came from varied culinary provenances. We sometimes cooked individually and sometimes in groups. Sharing was the norm. I tried many new foods, most of which I liked. This is where I was introduced to sauerkraut. I had no idea it was cabbage, but I knew I didn’t like it. This was served warm – stringy, acidic, bitter, and stinky. I could find nothing redeeming about it.
Fast forward to the first time I tasted homemade cole slaw, marinated in a vinaigrette. Freshly shredded cabbage was a revelation. It didn’t have much flavor of its own, but the crunchy texture combined with other freshly pickled vegetables caused me to reconsider earlier opinions. Though I usually shied away from creamy dressings, various cole slaw recipes earned spots in my picnic salad repertoire.
I was not as accepting of cooked cabbage. I equated cooked cabbage with the sauerkraut that repulsed me. I can’t remember the first time that I ate something with cooked cabbage in my post-collegiate life. I’m sure it was served to me at someone’s house and I just thought “vegetable”. Little did I know that the natural flavor of cabbage was mild and the texture somewhere between silky and pleasantly chewy. It took work to ruin it by turning it into sauerkraut. I willingly started to cook cabbage in savory dishes.
For the past several summers, I’ve been perfecting homemade sour dill pickles. I grow my own pickling cucumbers for a ready supply and make half a dozen large jars to enjoy throughout the rest of the year. I love the tang of lacto-fermentation. Over the same several summers, I also make a jar of kimchi every summer when my CSA share has a head of Napa cabbage. In my mind, Napa cabbage is a completely different vegetable than regular old green cabbage.
During these kitchen experiments, my friend Jackie suggested I add sauerkraut to the mix. My response: NO WAY! I HATE SAUERKRAUT! She couldn’t understand why and tried explaining that the fermentation tastes similar to the pickles. How could I like one and not the other? She couldn’t fathom my logic, and I was completely close-minded. Shortly afterwards, I visited a farmers market where a small batch producer of sauerkraut displayed their wares. When offered, I tentatively tasted the smallest nibble. Hmmmm… Jackie was right! The brine was reminiscent of sour pickles with less seasoning. I took another bite. It was actually good. I bought a jar. And now I make a large jar of sauerkraut each summer. I think the stuff I had back in college was out of a can. Quality makes such a difference.
It’s been a long road, but I’ve become a fan of cabbage. Who’d have ever thought that possible? Certainly not me. It must be said. Cabbage and I, we lived happily ever after.
This week for Cook the Book Fridays, we’re making Pasta with Cabbage, Winter Squash, and Walnuts from Dorie Greenspan’s Everyday Dorie. I was unfazed. In an intriguing twist, shredded cabbage stands in for some of the pasta. Long strands of toothsome linguine contrast with the silkier shorter strands of cooked cabbage. Sautéed chunks of butternut squash and sun-dried tomatoes (the original called for dried cranberries, taboo at our house) give the pasta some color. Walnuts and grated Parmesan cheese tie the flavors together.
This dish was simple enough for a weeknight, but we thought it lacked pizazz. The combination of ingredients should have tasted more interesting. Maybe cooking some onion or garlic with the squash would have added the missing oomph. We were disappointed.
Lately I feel like a hamster on a wheel, trying to keep abreast of Cook the Book Fridays bi-weekly recipe challenges. Sometimes I cook them on time. Sometimes I cook them late. More often than not, my blog posts have been monthly instead of recipe-by-recipe. Despite my best intentions, catchup has been the norm. It’s a new year, so I’m hoping that January represents more consistency on my part.
This week’s selection from Everyday Dorie is Pasta with Shrimp, Squash, Lemon and Lots of Herbs, or in my case, Pasta with Shrimp, Broccoli Rabe, Lemon and Lots of Herbs. This recipe has many components, but once your mise en place is set, the whole dish comes together quickly.
There are many steps, but they are all easy. First, you zest the lemons into the serving bowl. Then you juice the lemons. In an interesting twist, the spent halves are added to the pasta water to infuse further lemony flavor. While the pasta cooks, you sauté shrimp, then the vegetables. When the pasta is done, and drained, the shrimp and vegetables are tossed with the pasta along with butter, lemon juice, some reserved pasta water, and the tomatoes. Finally, the pasta is transferred to the serving bowl with the lemon zest and topped with fresh herbs and stirred together.
Dorie recommends using pasta that’s a similar size to the shrimp, so I chose mezze rigatoni. Howard has placed zucchini and summer squash on the “taboo” list at our house, plus they’re out of season, so I substituted broccoli rabe, which I cut into 2-inch lengths and blanched first. I also used a few tablespoons of diced sun-dried tomatoes instead of fresh ones. For herbs, Dorie’s recipe lists dill and chives. I already had a mixture of chopped dill, parsley and minced garlic to garnish a fish soup I made, so I used up the rest to top the pasta.
I was worried that the zest of three lemons would be too much. However, we enjoyed the brightness that all aspects of the lemon contributed. Its flavor wasn’t dampened in the leftovers either. I found the proportion of vegetables lacking, so if I make this again, I’ll double them. I will also increase the amount of sun-dried tomatoes I add.
This recipe offers a nice template for a lemony pasta that can evolve through the seasons by varying the vegetables. With a salad, it makes a perfect dinner.
I also made the Sweet and Smoky Roasted Carrots from last month’s schedule. I first made them for Thanksgiving 2018, right after Everyday Dorie was published. At the time, I felt ambivalent about them and particularly didn’t like the whole carrots because they took too long to cook through. I made a note to try cutting the carrots into 1-inch pieces, which is what I did this time around. While the carrots roasted in a more reasonable amount of time, I’m still ambivalent about them. With all the spices and flavorings, they should taste more interesting. Unfortunately, it falls flat on my taste buds. I won’t be making these carrots again. However, I still have some of the spice syrup left, so I’ll test that out on salad or in mayo and see if that works better for me.
If you’re up for trying either of these recipes, you can find the pasta on page 204 and the carrots on page 214 of Everyday Dorie. To see what the other cooks from Cook the Book Fridays thought of these, you can find links to their reviews here for the pasta and here for the carrots.
Happy New Year! Happy Cooking!