Sounds like the title of a romance novel right? Wait, you mean I lost you at the red cabbage part? Now hold on, don’t run off so fast. I know that a bowl of red cabbage elicits images of the scene in Willy Wonka where Charlie walks into the house disappointed by yet another evening of cabbage water soup. But trust me, this cabbage is different. This cabbage is truly sexy.
Imagine, if you will, a vegetable transformed. This one starts peppery and slightly bitter, refreshing and crunchy. But as it spends a good hour in a pot cozying up to crispy bacon and sweet caramelized onions, big chunks of crisp fall farmers market apples and a hefty dose of syrupy balsamic vinegar, things happen. The cabbage becomes tender throughout, staying a little al dente in the pieces closer to its core. All of the flavors condense into this sweet and sour glaze, making the glossy and slippery leaves of cabbage a nearly addicting treat, almost as if it were turned into candy. But there’s a smokiness that hides in the background too, masked somewhat by the sharpness of the tangy residual sauce that bubbles away beneath the cabbage, but rounding out the sweetness that exudes from the onion and apples.
This braised cabbage, in all of its sensual glory is without a doubt one of the greatest fall staple foods for me. It’s quick and comforting. It warms the house, perfuming it with smoky and sweet smells. Not to mention it makes an enormous number of servings. So for me, it was the perfect dish to tuck into the week before my sister’s wedding, a week of cooler temperatures and gloomy rain, a week of practicing my speech and sorting through logistics. In fact, even though I paired it with salt-roasted potatoes and bratwursts, there were several nights where all I managed was scooping some of the cabbage onto a plate, heating it up, and cracking open a beer. Few things are more comforting for me and more exemplary of the Fall season. Simple, yes. Bruise-colored in color, yes. But still hella sexy, definitely yes.
Braised Red Cabbage with Apples, Bacon, and Balsamic
Serves 4 as a main, 8 as a side
from Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie
½ lb. bacon, sliced thinly crossways
1 Tbs. fennel seeds, thoroughly crushed
1 onion, sliced
2 apples, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
1 red cabbage, removed of outer leaves and the core and chopped into large chunks
¾ cups balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
Pour a glug of olive oil into a large heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium-high. Add the bacon and fennel seeds and cook, stirring frequently until the bacon is crisp. Add the onion, stir, and put on the lid for a few minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the apples and the cabbage. Season with salt and pepper. Add the vinegar and mix well. Put the lid on the pot and cook over low heat for an hour, stirring every now and then. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve with a bit of butter and a handful of the chopped parsley. Even better with bratwursts and these salt-roasted potatoes.