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Gingerly with pork and cabbage


Cabbage cooked in a wok

Cabbage is the spotty kid who sits in the corner at the back of the class and waits for the bell to ring, then dawdles out of class slinking into the shadows in the hope that the bullies-in-chief won’t shove his head in the sandpit again.

Cabbage is the quietly talented kid who composes songs in his head but never sings them, knowing – or scared – that if he does, all the other kids will laugh and teacher will frown the frown that says, “That kid write songs? Never.”

Cabbage is the kid who dreads the day in school when you all have to stand up, one by one, and walk to the front of the class to give an oral. Facing the class is the worst thing for Cabbage Kid. They stare at you willing you to mess up, so you do. You compose a clever speech in your head but the brain doesn’t send the right speech to your vocal chords and the one that comes out is some jumbled nonsense verse that you don’t even recognise yourself.

If cabbage were an athlete, it would be the one trailing at the back while the leeks, the broccoli, the organic mangetout and especially the carrots – always, always the carrots – streak ahead and across the finishing line.

Cabbage just doesn’t believe in itself. And when you don’t have self-belief, you founder. The rocks call you like wreckers on the Cornish coast flashing their evil lights at night to lure you to the shore. It’s pretty dire to be a cabbage.

But always there is somebody who knows that thing that you know: that there is more to a cabbage than meets the eye. That the kid in the corner has stuff going on that is way more interesting, with way more promise, than the nondescript kids at the other desks could even begin to imagine.

There is always somebody who will have the insight to see that even a cabbage can have its place in the sun or, more precisely, at the centre of the plate. Because cabbage is just plain misunderstood and, like any of the misunderstood, they just need someone to come along and treat them properly.

And treating cabbage properly means not treating them like slops. Like discards, something to be shoved in a pot of boiling water and sloshed on a plate, grey-green and kind of slimy.

Treat a cabbage well and it will reward you with bright green eye-candy good looks and a gentle crunchy texture that gives new meaning to “al dente”. And this most maligned of vegetables has another winning attribute: it can take on flavour with tremendous flair and highly rewarding results for the palate that cares to appreciate its subtleties. And — let’s not fudge this further attribute – they’re cheap. And they last surprisingly well in the crisper. Just don’t, please don’t, boil the life out of them.

Finally, cabbage is the best match in the vegetable kingdom for pork, so when I found a lovely hunk of pork shoulder in the meat fridge the other day I grabbed a cabbage and some perky fresh ginger and headed home to pair them up for dinner.


Roast shoulder of pork

Gingered pork shoulder with cabbage

A 1.5kg pork shoulder, deboned

5 Tbs butter

3cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

5 Tbs olive oil

Enough cabbage for four people, shredded (you’ll have to use your common sense, Daisy)

1 heaped tsp onion seeds (tiny black seeds, from a spice shop)

Salt and pepper to taste

First, here’s the thing with a joint of pork: you want the crackling crisp but the meat tender, cooked all the way through (not even a hint of pink), while avoiding the dry chewiness that a pork roast can too easily become.

Score the fat deeply but not into the meat. Melt 2 Tbs butter in a roasting pan and add the chopped ginger, simmering gently to let the ginger flavour infuse the butter. Remove the ginger to one side and brown the flesh sides of the joint well in the butter, but not the fatty side. Season the meat side with salt and pepper, place on top of the ginger in the roasting pan, and then rub 3 Tbs olive oil into the crackling and salt well.

Roast in a 180° oven for 30 minutes for every 500g plus another 30 minutes, and then leave to rest with the oven door ajar for another 20 minutes.

You only need to cook the cabbage a few minutes before serving. Pour 2 Tbs olive oil in a wok and heat. Add 3 Tbs butter and melt. Stirfy the shredded cabbage in this, stirring with a wooden spoon all the time, for about 3 or 4 minutes, adding the onion seeds halfway through, so that you have lightly crunchy cabbage that is still a perky green. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Straight on to the plates with slices of pork on top, draped with crackling, and the pan juices poured around. You can add white wine and / or apple juice or other juice to the pan juices and quickly reduce down if you’d like more sauce.

If any of your guests complain, mention the sandpit outside.

First published in Weekend Argus August 2012 

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