White cabbage, fennel & onions with saffron

White cabbage, fennel & onions with saffron

Verza, finocchio e cipolle allo zafferano

By
From
Tuscany
Serves
4-6
Photographer
Helen Cathcart

This is another extract from the book by an anonymous Tuscan chef in the 1300s, which inspired this glorious dish of golden cabbage and fennel flavoured with the heady scent of saffron strands, a favourite spice in the wealthy households of the Middle Ages.

‘To make white cabbages, well cooked. Take stalks of cabbage, and clean them well, so that nothing is left of the leaves; and cut them at the softest part of the head: and when the pot has come to a boil, with oil and water inside, add said stalks, or rather the white parts of the cabbages, and add fennel bulbs, and let all of it boil until it is rather thick. And if you want, you can put in oil, or meat or capon broth, pepper, ground spices, beaten eggs, saffron for colour; and give it to your Lord.’

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, peeled and sliced into half-moons
1 fat fennel bulb
500g white cabbage
salt
freshly ground black pepper
100ml white wine
25g salted butter
1/2-1 teaspoon saffron strands

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a low heat, add the onion and fry for 5 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of water and continue to cook over a low heat for a further 10 minutes until soft.
  2. Meanwhile, clean the fennel bulb and cut it into quarters. Discard the tough leaves from the outside and cut away the woody centres. Cut the cabbage into wedges similar in size to the fennel, also discarding the woody stem. Put both vegetables into a large saucepan of boiling salted water and cook for 7–10 minutes or until just soft when pierced with a skewer.
  3. Lift the cabbage and fennel out of the water with a slotted spoon (keep the cooking water) and add them to the onion in the frying pan. Pour in the wine and let it reduce over a low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the smell of alcohol has completely disappeared. Do be patient here: it will sweeten the dish. Add 200 ml of the vegetable cooking water, the butter and a 1/2 teaspoon of the saffron. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook for around 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and add more saffron as necessary.
Tags:
Italy
Italian
Caldesi
Tuscany
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