(here you can read other names used to refer to this vegetable).
I must admit that, until recently, I had not used this type of cabbage. Then, one day, a beautiful head of it stared at me from the shelf of the grocery store and I could not refuse its proposal to hop on my cart.
I started my acquaintance with napa cabbage by cooking it very simply. The recipe I created was inspired by one in the book If the Buddha Came to Dinner by Halé Sofia Schatz: Braised (Napa) Cabbage, Fennel and Leeks (stufato di cavolo napa, finocchio e porri). I thought that the trio of ingredients formed a nice combination, so I adopted it. And I liked the idea of cooking the vegetables with some lemon juice (besides vegetable stock or water). For the rest of the recipe, I followed my impulse.
To braise means "to fry (food) lightly and then stew it slowly in a closed container." The Italian verb is stufare, which also means to cook something (usually meat) for a long time in a covered pan. Stufato is the resulting dish. But before I move on to the description of my stufato, let me share with you a couple of idioms that use the word cavolo:
- c'entra come i cavoli a merenda (it has nothing to do with it — literally: it is as pertinent as cabbage for an afternoon snack, cabbage not being considered a food appropriate for that meal)
- salvare capra e cavoli (literally: to save goat and cabbage, i.e., to find the solution for a situation where competing needs appear to be incompatible. The expression derives from the riddle of the farmer that needs to carry across a river on his boat a wolf, a goat and some cabbage. The wolf, left alone with the goat, would eat it, while the goat, left alone with the cabbage, would feast on it. The farmer's task is to organize the ferry service so as to carry across all the passengers without any loss)
Back to the recipe, here are the ingredients I used:
- two leeks (porri), washed and cut into thin half-moons
- leaves of a couple of sprigs of thyme (timo)
- a fennel (finocchio), thinly sliced using a mandoline
- half a napa cabbage, finely shredded
- a baby lemon (limone), thinly sliced using a mandoline
- two small or one big red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and diced
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- two tablespoons sunflower seeds (semi di girasole), lightly toasted in a dry skillet
Oil a sauté pan, add the leeks and thyme leaves, and cook for 5 minutes on gentle heat. Raise the heat to medium, add the fennel, napa cabbage and lemon slices, and stir. I have received a much-appreciated gift of baby lemons and I have been enjoying them a lot. They are 2-2.5" long, tender and delicately flavored.
After a minute or so, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Bring to simmer, lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring every now and then and making sure the pan is not dry. Add the red bell pepper and continue cooking until the vegetables are done to your liking: in my case, soft, but with still some crispness in the fennel. I must admit I did not keep track of the exact time. Add salt and pepper and serve warm, with the sunflower seeds on the side, to be sprinkled on the vegetables after they are plated: they add flavor and crunchiness to the delicate vegetable stufato.
This post contains a roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the cavolo napa audio file [mp3].
In case you are wondering about the farmer tasked with saving goat and cabbage, one way to achieve the goal is to follow these steps (assuming A is the starting point and B the destination):
- carry the goat from A to B (the wolf won't eat the cabbage)
- go back to A then carry the wolf from A to B
- bring back the goat from B to A (so the wolf won't eat it)
- carry the cabbage from A to B (at this point cabbage and wolf are on the same side)
- go back to A then carry the goat from A to B