Smothered Cabbage and Onion Soup

by Min Merrell

If you want to learn about flavor and how to get the most from the simplest ingredients, any Italian home cooking cookbook will lead you there. Three of my favorites with the dirtiest pages are Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (Knopf 1992), Arthur Schwartz’s Naples at Table (Harper Collins, 1998) and Edward Giobbi’s Italian Family Cooking (Vintage 1978).  I still pick up each one like an old friend and discover new dishes twenty years down the road. Lately, I’ve been playing around with the simple soup and pasta recipes like Arthur’s Pasta and Lentils. You want the most bang for your buck, then make this very cheap, beyond comprehension simple goodness.

Recently I ran across a post on the community food website Food52 declaring Marcella’s Smothered Cabbage that’s in her book as one of their “genius recipes.” I agree. Again proving there’s no need to source fancy ingredients for a good meal. Her book is serious about simplicity. Many of the vegetable recipes like this one share the cook-it-down philosophy of home cooking in the American South. 

 While contemplating a batch of beef broth for French Onion Soup, I realized that Marcella’s genius slow cooked smothered cabbage combined with a good mess of onions makes good sense for a soup. Marcella’s recipe cooks down the cabbage on the stove for about an hour and a half. I decided to throw the covered Dutch oven in the oven for an hour. It worked. 16 cups of cabbage and four cups of onion turned into four cups of sweet golden charred goodness. And I didn’t have to watch it.

Combine the cooked vegetables with broth, wine, arborio rice, and parmesan cheese and be rewarded with a sophisticated sweet/savory soup reminiscent of French onion, but heartier and without the big crown of rubbery cheese. It’s delicate and tough at the same time. You can cook the cabbage and onion mix when you have the time and freeze it or refrigerate it for later when ready to throw together the soup.  

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