With the nights drawing in, and winter just around the corner, there's nothing more welcoming than a humble, everyday cabbage. Cabbage is one of those vegetables which everyone thinks they know how to cook, but in fact, is actually quite hard to get right.
There seems to be a general assumption amongst the cognescenti that cabbage should be cooked to a crunchy texture; well, Up to a Point, Lord Copper: quite often this just means that the cabbage is undercooked- and you'll encounter this in Gastro Pubs up and down the kingdom.
On the other hand, I have nausea-inducing memories of the cabbage as served up to us at Dotheboy's Hall: this involved boiling water, a kitchen timer set to four and a half hours, the colour yellow, and a terrifying smell reminiscent of the Slough Gasworks. In the world of cabbage, you just can't win.
There are two methods of cooking cabbage. With the "fast-cook" method you slice up your cabbage and plunge it into rapidly boiling salted water. When it's cooked (difficult one to get right, that- you want it crunchy, yet not too crunchy), take it out of the pan and drain it in ice-cold water. This will help to set the colour green. Throw it into a small pan, warm it in butter and season to taste. Make sure that all the water has drained off properly. As I'm impatient (and also greedy), I have a tendency to do this in a rush (a "bull in a china shop", as my piano tutor used to say) and end up with nasty pools of water floating around on the plate.
The second method is the "slow-cook" or braising method, as favoured by the French (and The Greasy Spoon's grandmother). Yes, the cabbage will go yellow, and it will smell of sulphur, but if it's cooked very, very slowly, this might (just about) be a good thing. Simon Hopkinson, in his excellent book Roast Chicken and Other Stories, mentions John Tovey's recipe in which the cabbage is braised very slowly in butter, white wine and juniper berries. This sounds like the sort of dish they serve in Alsace, and my instincts tell me that a Reisling or Gewürztraminer would be just the ticket.
I've also found an old-fashioned French recipe for "Cabbage Soup with Diced Bacon". Chop up a green cabbage into small pieces and rinse it in vinegar and water. You then fry some chopped garlic in butter, and add diced bacon. After a few minutes add the cabbage and pour in some chicken stock. Simmer the soup very slowly for up to an hour. Serve in earthenware tureens with croutons sprinkled on the top.
If you're going to use the "slow-cook" method, a heat diffuser might be a good plan. This is a simple device which you place directly on top of the gas hob, and spreads the heat. It will allow you to cook food at a snail's pace.