Recipe: The Best Cabbage & Potatoes

Cabbage! I’ve never really liked it no matter how it was cooked.

Usually recognized as the soggy mess boiled to death and found next to corned beef for St. Patricks Day, it was something to be pushed around the plate and then scraped into the bin. As a real sign of disapproval, not even the dogs would touch it. Then last year I had a revelatory moment — a cabbage revelatory moment, if you will allow me.

My friend Ivo and I met Andrea and his daughter for a Sunday lunch at a restaurant near the Tre Archi in Perugia. It was a nondescript restaurant and somewhat deserted for a Sunday which usually makes me a bit leery. It did have table cloths and cloth napkins but nothing led me to suspect I was in for a revelatory experience.

Vittoria was a bit shy and said hello in English before everyone lapsed back into Italian and I went back to paying attention to the decor and musing about Italian food, in general. One of the things I like about most restaurants in Italy is that you don’t have to place your entire order at once. That way, if you’re full, you don’t have to eat the second plate. So civilized it would never work in New York where the goal of a successful restaurant is to turn the table three times in an evening. Here its possible to relax for the entire evening enjoying your friends, good food, and the local wine.

For the first course we all ordered the Penne alla Norcia (Andrea said it was quite good here) and a bottle of San Geovese. After the Norcia, which was every bit as Andrea said it would be, the waiter stood ready to take our orders for second plates. I was brave and ordered one of the specials — Coniglio Arrosto (roast rabbit). Given the other special had the words ‘lamb hearts’ in the name, I went with the more comforting Roast Thumper. I asked for the vegetable and was told it was Cavolo con Patate (cabbage with potatoes). Both Andrea and the waiter nodded their approval.

Having enjoyed the Norcia and being quite pleased with the rabbit, I was not prepared that the side dish would be the star of the meal. I’ve never tasted cabbage like this. It was cooked till soft, combined with delicate boiled potatoes, then drenched in Umbrian olive oil. It was nothing short of perfect. It was only after the meal that Andrea told me he trained the chef and the cabbage was one of his recipes.

It’s easy to make it yourself and come off as the expert chef you always knew you were. However, the secret is in the springy, textured leaves of the Savoy cabbage. Something that will only be found in the autumn and winter.

Here’s the recipe:
1 head of Savoy cabbage
4 good sized potatoes (Yukon Gold or other firm potatoes).
4 gloves of fresh garlic, crushed
Extra Virgin olive oil (I’m predisposed to olive oil from Umbria)Cut up cabbage into quarters, remove core, and cut into inch wedges. Break apart and rinse. Wash and peel the potatoes and cut into an inch by half inch cubes. Not too small because you don’t want to make mashed potatoes. Boil cabbage in salted water for about half an hour until tender but not mushy. Boil potatoes remembering that they need to stay somewhat together. When the two are done let sit while you saute the crushed cloves of garlic in enough Extra Virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet. When garlic is ready, drain cabbage and potatoes and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste and more Olive Oil. Serve steaming next to any meat dish. I’ve chosen baked chicken for this photo.Let me know if this is a revelatory experience for you as well.