Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Varza noua calita cu sunca

"Spring cabbage stewed with bacon"

At this time of year the markets are full of spring cabbage. Compared to cabbage the rest of the year round these ones are greener and the leaves thinner, giving them a slightly more salad-like texture compared to the more substantial white cabbage available the rest of the year. Varza calita, or stewed cabbage, is available in most restaurants in Romania and is most commonly served with smoked pork. This recipe, a composite of my own from various cookbooks, is quite a typical home-cooked meal and is a good example of a Romanian slow-cooked dish. I recently bought a ceramic ‘cratita’ /cra-teat-za/ produced by a company based in Harghita, a county in the centre of the country. It’s the perfect vessel for many traditional Romanian dishes. Luckily it just about fits into my oven (which is a little smaller than the typical oven, unfortunately). Stewed cabbage is easy to prepare and once it’s in the oven needs very little attention. Leftovers can be readily reheated for subsequent meals, so it’s worth making a decent quantity.

Time: 2 hours
Servings: 4-6 portions

2-3 medium onions
1 large red bell pepper
2 medium spring cabbages
1 slab of smoked pork or bacon or hock
Olive oil
Fresh dill (dried can be used)
2 fresh bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Tomato paste

1. Finely chop the onions and pepper and gently sauté them in a pan until soft.
2. Chop the bacon into large chunks, or if you want, you can keep it whole, and add this to the pan to gain a little colour and shed a little flavoursome fat.
3. While these are cooking, finely shred the cabbages, discarding (or reserving, if you like to munch on them) the hearts.
4. In a large ovenproof dish (preferably ceramic) layer the softened onion, pepper, and bacon and the cabbage. Pour on a splash of warm water (or borsh if you have it and like the more sour taste). Add a couple of bay leaves, too. Cover.
5. Set the dish in the oven and leave on a low heat (180-190C) for at least an hour, maybe two, until the cabbage has turned golden brown and is soft and no longer crunchy. Check it from time to time while it cooks, stir it a little to prevent the bottom burning, and add more liquid if it looks like it’s drying out.
6. When it’s almost cooked, you can stir in a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree and a handful of chopped dill. Cumin is also a common-ish addition but I prefer it without. A spoonful of sour cream (smantana) always goes well with stewed cabbage in my opinion.

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