This cabbage casserole is the perfect comfort food to enjoy on St. Patrick’s Day

Simple, ignoble, under-appreciated green cabbage: It has got to be one of the most unpretentious and humblest in all of the Cruciferae family, if not among the entire vegetable kingdom. It is nutrient-packed, like the rest of its cruciferous brethren, yet it has not always garnered the same respect as cauliflower, Brussels spouts or even broccoli.

But I hear it is finally happening, at least in the bigger cities — cabbage is moving into the limelight and I could not be prouder. My fingers are crossed that it can graduate from coleslaw and become a featured vegetable at nicer restaurants near me. 

This favorite casserole of mine is a jazzed-up version of a simpler, old-fashioned dinner staple. I have added of a dash of this and a pinch of that over the years, but it is still the same comforting, mouthwatering, saucy, almost pasta-like dish that I have loved for so many years.

Filled to the top with raw chopped cabbage and sweet onion, it all cooks down while it bakes, leaving you with a smooth and smothered, delicate, tender-sweet final product. It is so nourishing and satisfying, sort of like a cabbage version of creamed spinach, but with a buttery breadcrumb topping.     

My love affair with cabbage began as soon as I got a toe in adulthood, but even people who do not consider themselves overly fond of it are shocked by how much they fall in love with this creamy version. It pleases me greatly to blow the minds of those who think cabbage is boring or bland or somehow undeserving to be served as an elevated side. At least one day during the year, cabbage receives the attention it deserves. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are just not complete without it: I mean, it did save the Irish people during the Great Potato Famine of the mid-1800’s that swept across Europe from Belgium. 

Over a million people in Ireland died between 1845-52 when a blight caused potatoes to rot in the fields. Irish farmland was still owned by the English at this time in history, and the tenant farmers who paid to work the land had virtually nothing, even before this tragic happening. Almost everything they grew went to the landowners as rent payments, leaving them with the barest of means to survive. Potatoes were one of the only crops that produced enough to provide them sustenance after what was demanded by the British. 


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It is estimated that during each of the famine years, some sixty-five pounds of cabbage was consumed per person as it was all they had. (Six pounds would be closer to what an average person consumes per year in the US.) 

What a heroic history this underdog, this mighty leafy green, has had. I am pulling for it! I hope it continues to grow in popularity and am doing my part one dinner at a time.

I know if naysayers could taste this casserole, many would pivot and support Team-Cabbage all the way.  

Ingredients

1 small cabbage

1 medium sweet onion, like Vidalia

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 can condensed Cream of Mushroom (or Chicken or Celery)

Mayonnaise, less than 1/4 cup

Worcestershire sauce, about 4 shakes

Olive oil, if needed

Salt & pepper, if needed

 

 

Topping:

Stir the following together and set aside:

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan

2 to 3 cups breadcrumbs or crushed buttery crackers, like Ritz or Captain’s Wafers

(Taste for salt. If using fresh breadcrumbs, you will most likely need salt, especially if you cook with unsalted butter).

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350FSpray oil or butter a 9 x 13 casserole.

  2.  Slice cabbage into 1/4” rounds, then cross chop into bite size lengths, and place in prepared casserole dish.

  3. Chop onion similarly and sprinkle over the cabbage.

  4. Drizzle melted butter on top.

  5. Mix cream soup with a little mayo, several shakes of Worcestershire and a swirl of olive oil to make a thick but spreadable sauce. (Taste for salt) 

  6. Spoon on top of onions and cabbage and use a rubber spatula to cover all.

  7. Top with breadcrumbs or cracker mixture and bake uncovered for 45 minutes on middle rack.


Cook’s Notes

Make your own condensed soup:

2 Tbsp butter

1/4 cup flour

1 cup salty broth (chicken or vegetarian)

1/2 cup milk or unsweetened coconut cream—slightly warm or room temp (not cold)

A dash of the following: celery salt, garlic powder, onion powder, additional salt if needed and black pepper to taste.

In a small saucepan, add butter. When butter is melted and sizzling, whisk 1/4 cup flour, keep it on the heat for 2-3 minutes stirring or whisking constantly.

Add half of the broth and incorporate it before adding the other half. Then add the milk and seasonings. Bring mixture to just before boiling and remove from heat. It will thicken as it rests.

Use this in place of condensed canned soup, if desired.

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