Riccardo Cosentino, 1909-2008
Regina Schrambling's Mushroom Ragout

Marcella Hazan's Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup


More patience.

Less anxiety.

More seizing-the-day, more exploration, more adventure.

Less routine, less ruts.

Oh, and more vegetables.

* * *

New year, new resolutions. Every January rolls around and I feel mildly twitchy and on edge about any number of things I'm meant to be improving Right Now (the state of my cuticles, the number of times a week I find myself gyrating to a hopped-up 80's music in a class full of other Spandex-clad ladies, the amount of letters I hand-write to my acquaintances, and my determination to make this year the year I finally join a choir).

I try not to get too caught up in the clean slate, fresh page thing, but it's hard. After a month of excess - too many truffles from gift baskets at the office, too much alcohol from one too many holiday parties, too many heavy meals that mark each celebration at the end of the year - it seems a given that January become an ascetic month. Early-to-bed, early-to-rise, frequent visits to the gym, main-course meals made of nothing but plants, and wholesale rejection of anything sweet... oh, it's all so dour.

(Except that while I was in Brussels with my family, eating meal after meal of amazing vegetables (my Sicilian uncle, man, he has his sources - boiled broccoli rabe, braised artichokes (every day!) filled with seasoned breadcrumbs, tender slices of raw fennel, and spunky little puntarelle (which sparked a discussion about the various kinds of endive/chicory were best and things got a little heated, I won't lie, because people have their favorites and you can't go around impugning someone's favorite green, you really can't), just to name a few, I realized that, if vegetables are as delicious as the things I ate there, it's not exactly deprivation.)

(Swear to God and I hope that doesn't make me a total nerd.)

(Tragically, and somewhat predictably, the fare available to me at my local Key Foods, and (to be honest) even at the somewhat more upscale organic grocer in my neighborhood is a pale, pale comparison to the tasty shoots and leaves we ate in Europe. Everything there was sweeter, greener, more tender, more flavorful. Why? I don't know. It just was. And I promise it's not because someone else was cooking either.)

(Okay, enough of this.)

In Berlin last week, I appalled some friends by admitting that Ben and I routinely polish off an entire head of cabbage in one sitting. I was thinking, specifically, of Marco Canora's braised cabbage, but then the other night, fueled by Marcella Hazan's urging and my determination (my trousers, they are snug), I turned an entire head of Savoy cabbage into soup and - zing! - it was gone in a minute. Hey, presto! Think of it as my version of the cabbage soup diet. (Ba-da bing.)


It's so much richer, though, and delicious than it sounds. You shred cabbage and braise it within an inch of its life with a bit of vinegar (a Venetian treatment, this is). Then you take the whole lot of it (I know, it's rather wan. But so tasty!) and boil it with broth and rice into a soupy, sludgy stew. You beat butter and Parmesan into it, kind of like with risotto, let it sit for a few minutes and then you eat it.

It fulfills quite a few January requirements - some low, slow cooking; a goodly amount of vegetables and just a wee bit of fat; and has the stick-to-your-ribs quality that you simply need when the wind howls around the corners and your pipes threaten to freeze. It's not much to look at, that's true, but who said January was pretty, anyhow?

Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup
Serves 2 if that's all you're having for dinner

Smothered Cabbage:

2 pounds Savoy cabbage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon wine vinegar

1. Detach and discard the first few outer leaves of the cabbage. Shred the remaining head of cabbage very fine, either with your food processor's shredding attachment or by hand. Be sure to remove the cabbage's inner core.

2. Put the onion and olive oil and a large saute pan and turn the heat to medium. Cook the onion, stirring, until it's softened and taken on some color. Then add the garlic. When the garlic has turned a pale gold, add the shredded cabbage. Turn the cabbage over 2 or 3 times to coat it well, and cook it until it has wilted.

3. Add salt, pepper, and the vinegar to the pan. Turn the cabbage over once, completely, then lower the heat to minimum and cover the pan tightly. Cook for at least 1 1/2 hours, or until it is very tender, stirring from time to time. Add 2 tablespoons of water, if needed, during the cooking if the cabbage becomes too dry. When done, taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Allow it to settle a few minutes off heat before serving.


The smothered cabbage
3 cups homemade meat broth or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 2 cups of water or 1 1/2 bouillon cubes dissolved in 3 cups of water
2/3 cup Arborio rice
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the cabbage and broth into a soup pot, and turn on the heat to medium.

2. When the broth comes to a boil, add the rice. Cook, uncovered, adjusting the heat so that the soup bubbles at a slow but steady boil, stirring from time to time until the rice is done. It must be tender, but firm to the bite, and should take around 20 minutes. If while the rice is cooking, you find the soup becoming too thick dilute it with a ladleful of homemade broth or water. The soup should be on the dense-ish side when finished.

3. When the rice is done, before turning off the heat, stir in the butter and the grated cheese. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into individual plates and allow it to settle a few minutes before serving.