I didn’t actually think this dish was going to be that good or even remotely blog-worthy. I didn’t take photos as I was making it (wish I had but I did capture the finished product) but then when I ate three servings for dinner and enjoyed it just as much the next day and the next, I figured it should be noted publicly. It obviously made a large quantity, seeing that I was still eating it three days later and that that was a good thing. . . .It’s made with the most ordinary of ingredients and could be varied in umpteen ways.
This dish came about because I had a huge wedge of green cabbage in the fridge that needed using. I had a handful of potatoes and I had some milk. So I cooked the potatoes in a big pot of boiling water. Then I tossed in a handful of little tubetti pasta to make it appealing to my four-year-old who will eat anything that has pasta in it. But the thrust of this dish is purely cabbage and potatoes and unless you have a similarly habituated child (or adult in your household) I’d skip the pasta. Then, I tried to estimate when I should add the cabbage so that I could drain the whole pot of potatoes, pasta and cabbage at once and all at the appropriate stage of doneness. That was really the only trick of this dish. Some of my potatoes were beginning to fall apart when the cabbage and pasta were tender and when I drained the whole, pale contents of the pot I began to doubt the wisdom of this process.
However, knowing that I was going to mix said contents with a quick Bechamel sauce I figured I still stood a chance. And I was going to add some grated cheese and top it with a few bread crumbs and then get it all bubbly and crisp in the oven. . .
A side-note about bechamel, or simple cream sauce: It was one of the first things I mastered as a young cook when I was about 8 I think. All you do is melt some butter, whisk in an equal amount of flour and then after a few minutes add hot milk and a few seasonings and simmer that for a few minutes (or much longer if you’re feeling fancy). It seems like a bit of a throwback and I certainly don’t see recipes with it on any food blogs these days but I think it’s a lifesaver sometimes.
So, give it a try and let me know if it was worth it. And I do really hope you make this whole dish, or some version of it.
P.S. For those of you in the Portland (OR) region and for those of you interested in or already devoted CSA fans, I am working with 47th Ave. Farm on their Winter Share and will be providing comprehensive recipe packets with each share all season. So if you’ve thought about joining a CSA but were afraid you wouldn’t know what do with all the veggies, fear no more.
Creamy Cabbage and Potato Gratin
You could add lots of chopped parsley or oregano or basil or chives to the dish as you’re assembling it, before baking. You could use other vegetables. I imagine diced winter squash instead of the potatoes would be fabulous and very pretty. Sausage, bacon or any kind of leftover meat would be good. You can vary the cheeses, omit entirely, and so on and so forth!
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
generous 2 cups of whole milk (2% can work in a pinch)
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
pinch of ground nutmeg or cloves
fresh minced thyme, parsley, chives, etc. (optional)
Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan over med/low heat. When melted, whisk in flour. Continue cooking the roux for 2 -3 min, whisking frequently. Meanwhile heat milk until it’s scalding. Whisk hot milk into roux and add several pinches of salt, grind in some pepper, add chili flakes (or omit if you’d like), add mustard and a bay leaf and a grating or two of nutmeg. Stir well and cook over med/low heat for about 10 minutes until thickened and bubbling. Add some grated cheese (sharp cheddar, Gruyère, Emmentaler, etc. ) and fresh, chopped herbs if you’d like at this point.
For the gratin:
3-5 potatoes (depending on size) and cut into thumb-sized chunks
1/2 medium to large green cabbage (or a whole small one), cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
Handful or two of small pasta (optional)
Bread crumbs (optional)
Grated cheese (sharp cheddar, Gruyère, Emmentaler, . . .)
Put potatoes in a large pot with lots of water and two teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring to a boil. If you are using some kind of pasta you’ll want to add it to the potatoes just a few minutes after the water comes to a boil so the pasta can cook for 8 or so minutes (depending on the type you choose this will vary. The pasta can be quite all dente when you drain everything though since it will keep cooking in the oven.) When the potatoes (and pasta, if using) are almost tender add the cabbage to the pot. Cover and cook for another few minutes until the cabbage is tender. Drain.
Spread the vegetables in a large baking dish. Pour the béchamel over the top and mix in a bit. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and extra cheese (if you’d like) and bake at 400 until bubbly and crisp on top (I broil it at the end for a few minutes).