Vegetarian Cabbage, Fennel, Onion & Sausage Casserole

“As the steak disappeared, I watched her long old ear-lobes pinken. I remembered what an endocrinologist had told me once, that after rare beef and wine, when the lobes turned red, was the time to ask favours or tell bad news. I led the conversation back to the table, and then plunged brusquely. ‘Why do you really dislike cabbage, Mrs. Davidson?'”

~ MFK Fisher, Serve It Forth

Although Fisher sets it up like a mystery, like she’s a cop from Law and Order: Criminal Intent sussing out the secret behind a crime, the answer is obvious: the smell. Mrs. Davidson continues by recounting her horror when her husband took her through a poor urban area where the air was thick with the gassy smell of cooking cabbage, an odor completely unfamiliar to the bourgeois Mrs.

Of course cabbage, a working-class food par excellence, is not alone in its smelliness. My mother, who grew up poor in NYC, would sometimes cook herself a big pot of tripe, a dish she loved as a child. I couldn’t stand the stench and would have to leave the house (dramatic, I know), whenever she made it. But such is the relationship between food and class–the poor make do with the discarded parts, the ones that smell, are tough, fatty, or sinewy and turn them into sustenance.

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I imagine this is what Mrs. Davidson’s face looked like while smelling cabbage. Still from John Waters’ Female Trouble.

While this recipe is an easy, quick, and cheap main course or side dish that uses cabbage as its star ingredient, it will not stink up your house or make your neighbors shake their fists at you through the walls.

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I’ve adapted the recipe from this one by Smitten Kitchen. The original, honestly, sounded like it would be droopy, bland, and white, and while that may describe a lot of indie rock bands, it’s not what I’m looking for in dinner. Sausages and fennel are a delicious combination. Adding browned onions brings in some color and more flavor as well. When I make this again, I’ll experiment with a little garlic or some red pepper. Maybe even use chorizo. To make it for vegans, replace the butter with a vegan substitute. To make it for carnivores, use real meat. As this suggests, the possibilities are pretty endless.

Vegetarian Cabbage, Fennel, Onion & Sausage Casserole

  • 1/2 small cabbage, cored and thickly shredded
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 vegetarian italian sausages, halved and cut into pieces (or use meat!)
  • oil
  • butter

Preheat oven to 300. Heat oil in a pan. When hot, add onions. Let them brown on the bottom, then keep turning the over. Reduce heat so they don’t burn. You want them to get nicely browned throughout. You could also caramelize them and use those.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add fennel and cabbage to it. Cover until it has returned to a full boil. Uncover and cook for 3 minutes. Drain. Press in colander to get out as much water as possible.

Butter a square baking dish. Layer 1/3 of the cabbage fennel mixture on the bottom. Layer 1/3 of the onions above that and then 1/2 of the sausages. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then dot with butter. Repeat the layers and end with cabbage. Cover the baking dish with parchment and then aluminum foil. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, uncover and bake for another 30 minutes. Serve with mustard on the side.

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