My mother – just turned 79 – after reading the post on Wild Fennel Seeds, asked me to send her the recipe for our Slow Simmered Cabbage with Apple and Spice. Well. You know you’re on to something when your own mother asks you for a recipe. Especially a mother who, like mine, has never been short on imagination or promise when it comes to feeding the hoards. We were six little’uns when we were all home, with thirteen years between the first and the youngest born, and even when a couple were absent from the table there’d be friends or collegues or cousins to fill the spaces. Eight for dinner, every night. She was a marvel, and I, being joyfully childless, have no idea how she did it.
Here in Italy, they eat a lot of pork. It’s a common ‘secondo’ at the Trattoria’s where the workmen stop for their midday meal. A typical set menu, for around €11, looks like this:
- a primo (choice of risotto or pastaciutta, sometimes soup)
- a secondo (choice of pork chop, steak, grilled chicken, and on Friday’s, fish)
- a contorno (a side dish: vegetables or mixed salad)
- 1/4 of wine or water
- an espresso
It’s a good deal. The General’s workplace reimborses the receipt at the end of the day. Other businesses might supply a voucher, or add a meal allowance to the monthly wage. Some places have their own mensa or canteen. But whatever the situation, if the lunch break allows enough time to return, most people will choose a home-cooked meal. Yep. The roads are busy at midday, with everyone going back home to wife or mamma.
Because of so many meals at the Trattoria’s, and because the Paleo diet somewhat restricts his options, he doesn’t jump over the moon when I announce that it’s Pork Chops for dinner. But serving Slow Simmered Pork with Apple and Spice alongside softens his resistance. This week, it had to be done.
Lina, my 79 year old mother-in-law who lives downstairs on the ground floor, often receives boxes of whatever her siblings are picking. Old people eat like birds, so we are encouraged to partake of the offerings. Right now, it’s apples. Red, crunchy, weather-bespeckled fruits from trees which have rarely seen spray. Some are tiny as an apricot, or have bugs nibbling at the core. They are sweet and sharp. They are as you remember them, they remind you of apples from home.
If we don’t cook them, they’ll turn. We’re doing a Whole 30 this month so Paleo Apple Cake and Crumble aren’t on the menu, yet we so need comfort food.
Pork and Apples. For the belly and for the heart. There’s something deeply satisfying about slicing into that pink-white flesh which is cooked to perfection: not so moist that juices run, yet no so dry as to have toughened. Then piling onto the fork an opulent portion of Cabbage and Apple, which is soft from having been simmmered for so long. Which is steaming, and sweet. Which is scented with cloves, fennel and anise.
Sometimes I might add a tablespoon of sultanas along with the apple and spice. And butter stirred through before serving adds richness and gloss. Whatever the variations, Slow Simmered Cabbage with Apple and Spice is worth writing home about, so this one’s being sent to my Mum.
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cabbage, finely shredded (4 cups)
- 1 large apple, peeled, cored, quartered and thickly sliced (1½ cups
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 10 cloves
- 2 spikes star anise
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ home-made chicken stock, or water
- 1 tablespoon sultanas
- 50 grams butter
- In a large saucepan with a good base, heat the olive oil and sautè the onion until soft.
- Add the cabbage and stir until it starts to wilt.
- Add the apple, fennel seeds, cloves, star anise, salt and chicken stock or water.
- Place the lid on the saucepan, and bring to a slow simmer.
- Simmer for at least an hour with the lid on, stirring occasionally.
- Serve hot as a side dish with pork.