Bacon and cabbage needs to be restored as the national dish

Valerie O’Connor suggests going back to our roots to get great flavour, health-giving properties and the big F — fibre from that hardy green, the cabbage.  

Cabbage used to be somebody. This robust, green brassica was a staple on Irish dinner tables and couldn’t be moved from it’s number one spot on the charts for centuries.

We chowed down happily on bacon and cabbage, although the cabbage may have been just a tad overdone and a teeny bit slippery, and maybe just a bit smelly.

Cabbage was everywhere, but let’s be honest, this hard working green never really got it’s best side out. Then kale came along. Kale, essentially cabbage, but ten times the price, knocked cabbage off it’s spot when Beyoncé was seen wearing the now legendary slogan “Eat More Kale” emblazoned across a sexy, off the shoulder sweatshirt.

Cabbage and kale are pretty much the same thing, except that cabbage has taken on the image of Christy Brown’s mother in My Left Foot, sensible and uninspiring, frumpy — old news.

Well that’s a shame as cabbage is just about the best food you can eat for so many reasons. Its loaded with that F word we never read about anymore, fibre, and if you want to keep everything in your digestive system moving nicely — you can’t eat enough fibre, especially the kind that comes from green veg.

Cabbage is also the main ingredient in the wonderfoods sauerkraut and kimchi, and is hailed as having cancer-preventing properties, the ability to reduce inflammation and to help to reduce bad cholesterol. A head of cabbage will cost you far less than the equivalent weight of kale and you can use it in soups, stir fries and risottos, like the recipe here where I combine an Italian classic with an Irish twist.

To get the best from a head of cabbage,in terms of nutrition and enjoyment, the trick is not to overcook it. Steaming or sweating the cabbage gives you a lovely result with a bit of bite.

Basic cabbage recipe for tasty and more-ish results

Ingredients

1 small or half a head of cabbage 100g bacon lardons Olive oil/ butter Black pepper

Method

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot heat a little olive oil or butter and add the bacon bits and cook them for a few minutes until they take on some colour.

2. Wash the cabbage leaves, removing the spines and roll them up, a few at a time and shred them with a large knife on a chopping board

3. Add the cabbage to the pan with a small cup of water, giving everything a good stir

4. Pop a lid on the pot and reduce the heat to a minimum, leave this to sweat for 15 minutes, giving it the odd stir.

5. Drain any excess liquid from the pot, and give the pan a few grinds of black pepper and maybe a knob of butter to melt on top. This is great with lamb chops or bacon of course.

A version of this can be served with an Asian twist by using some freshly-grated root ginger instead of the bacon and then sprinkle over a little soy sauce at the end of cooking.

Bacon and Cabbage Risotto

People often shy away from making risotto as you do have to stand by the pot and stir it regularly, but you will have a meal ready in 30 minutes or less, so it’s really not that big a deal.

Whenever I have left-over chicken stock, I make risotto so it’s handy to keep a couple of those small bottles of wine in the cupboard as the wine really makes a difference to the flavours. This recipe makes 2 hefty portions

Ingredients

50ml olive oil

1 small onion finely chopped

1 stick celery, washed and finely chopped

200g risotto rice

150ml white wine

200g bacon bits or lardons

2-4 large cabbage leaves, washed with the spines taken out and shredded

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

100g butter

100g parmesan cheese

Method

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and gently fry the onion and celery for about 5-7 minutes until they soften.

2. Meanwhile put the stock in a pot to heat it up and have a ladle handy.

3. Add the rice to the pot and give it a good stir to coat it.

4. Now add the wine and stir it well, turn up the heat so that the wine evaporates.

5. Add the bacon bits to the pan with the cabbage and stir everything to coat.

6. Ladle in two ladles of stock. If your ladle is big then just one will do and add a pinch of salt and a shake or black pepper to the pot, stir well.

7. Stir the pot every minute or so, mainly to ensure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.

8. Add more stock and salt and pepper, repeating the process until the rice stops absorbing and is looking creamy and has a slight bite to it.

9. Now turn off the heat and add your butter and parmesan cheese to the pot, don’t stir it, cover it and leave it for a few minutes for everything to melt. Now stir it and your risotto is ready.


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