February is one of the 'hungry months' in the garden and for those of us who are trying to eat seasonally, this refers back to a time when our stocks from the autumn harvests were depleted and we were reliant on a very few crops to get us through to Spring...notably one of the most versatile but much maligned veg - the stately cabbage. For me, it took a while to dispel the memories of my Mum's stewed efforts and the words of George Orwell who refers to the stench of 'boiled cabbage' pervading the flats where Winston lives in '1984'.
Since I have been growing them, I have had a kind of revelation and know that they are now one of my favoured veg, eaten raw in salads instead of lettuce, pickled in a kimchi, sliced into a coleslaw, stir fried, used as a filling for a burrito with black beans and a vital ingredient in this month's recipe. Indeed, I have devoted a whole section in my recipe folder to these wonderful, cheap, reliable croppers. Careful management of your plot and researching the correct seeds, means you can grow cabbage all year through and there is nothing quite like cutting a superb healthy cabbage from the frosty ground in winter to make you feel you are doing the right thing in growing your own. The varieties I tend to go to are 'Ormskirk', 'January King', 'Savoy King' & 'Greyhound.' This year I want to try heritage varieties such as 'Golden Acre' and 'Early Copenhagen Market' for their notable buttery taste.
February's recipe is a an old peasant dish from France. It can be eaten hot or cold and is substantial. It can easily be made vegan/vegetarian by omitting the bacon. It is also very 'portable.' We once took slices of this on a plane where it lingered in our rucsacs for most of the day and was eventually eaten late at night - I can't tell you how delicious and welcome it was.
Half a cabbage (sliced)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
S & P
200g bacon, cubed
200g plain flour
Heat the oven to 180 Fan. GM 4
Steam the cabbage lightly for 2 - 3 mins. Do not over do it. Should still be crispy. Set aside.
In a frying pan fry off the onion, garlic & bacon a little - just to take the rawness off.
In a bowl, mix the flour, eggs, milk & S&P together to a smooth paste
Add the onion, garlic & bacon to the flour mixture.
Put a large pie dish in the oven which has been smeared with a generous tablespoon of olive oil - DO NOT OMIT this part of the process as it is vital to getting a crispy, cooked bottom.
When the pie dish is hot, remove from the oven and spread half of the dough over the base of the dish. Pile on the cabbage and pack it down with your hands, then cover with the remaining dough mixture.
Bake for 35 - 40 mins.
Variations - these are really worth sharing with you because they do enhance the basic dish.
Add 1 chopped Leek to the Onion, Bacon mixture
Add some grated cheese on top of the dish before cooking in the oven
Use 3 eggs not two to give a lighter pie
Substitute the milk with some creme fraiche or yoghurt instead of all milk
Substitute Kale for Cabbage
I do all of these now as a matter of course and rarely stick to the basic recipe. Let it evolve as you wish.