Peasant Food: No Insult Intended

February 14, 2018





I know it’s the week of Valentine’s day, and Mardi Gras, and the Chinese Lunar New Year, so I probably should be writing about a decadent chocolate dessert or jambalaya or Szechwan shrimp. It’s what any self-respecting person who writes about food would do. To keep your finger on the pulse of those monthly celebrations is just smart planning.

And to that, I’m going to say: F*ck that noise. We’re going to buck tradition and Stick it to the Proverbial Man. During this week dedicated to love and all things decadent, I’m going to write about cabbage soup.

You heard me. Cabbage. Soup.

Cabbage: probably the most austere and peasant-ish and unsexy vegetable known to humankind.

Soup: probably the next most austere and unsexy thing on the planet.

Put those two lowly things together and what would you expect to find?

Oddly enough, when you put those two things together, you get something quite remarkable. I certainly wasn’t expecting remarkable, even though the recipe comes from someone as trustworthy with a vegetable as Marcella Hazan. Marcella Hazan has a deft hand in the kitchen, but she’s not a wizard or a unicorn, and to transform the lowly cabbage into something unctuous, deeply satisfying and soul-comforting is something requiring otherworldly magic, don’t you think?

Marcella Hazan: almost unicorn.

Hazan starts with a basic method of cooking cabbage in the Venetian “smothered” style. Translation: slowly cook the everlasting Hell out of the cabbage until it loses all cabbage-like properties. No crunch, no zip, no texture other than melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. Enrich it with yummy olive oil and rich chicken stock and a little aggressive hand with the pepper.

To be honest, the cabbage is plenty delicious just that way, but then Hazan takes it to the next level by adding risotto rice (Arborio), more stock, a few heavy handfuls of heavenly, good quality Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese and a nice knob of butter to finish the whole business off.

It. Is. Freaking. Delicious.

Hazan calls it a “soup,” but it really isn’t. It comes out all thick and slumpy and almost risotto-like. It’s a little thinner than a risotto but thicker and more substantial than a soup. I call it a “sloop,” which I guess is some kind of thing in between. Whatever it is, it’s good eating.

If you are like me, and have some sort of German (or Polish, or Slavic or Eastern Bloc) rattling around in your DNA, this kind of dish is going to speak to you. You’re going to think it’s the most cozy, comforting thing you’ve ever eaten. You’re going to hear the voices and happy sighs of your ancestors as soon as you tuck into this dish.

Even if you don’t have stuff like that in your genetic makeup, I’d encourage you to try this anyways. Preferably on a bitterly cold evening with a little more cheese thrown on top for good measure.

I’d be lying if I said this dish is pretty.

It ain’t.

It’s the most rustic kind of peasant fare you’ll eat, but I don’t mean that in anything but the best way.

You know how much this recipe soothed what ailed my winter soul?

I ate the whole batch myself.

Oh, the shame of it, because this recipe makes a lot of “sloop,” and I didn’t share a single bowl of it with anyone else. Now granted, it’s so ugly and soup-ish looking that my girls would never touch this (even with extra cheese) and my husband thinks I’m a little dotty for getting excited about cabbage, but I could have at least offered to share. I didn’t say a peep. I ate bowl after bowl for lunch and dinner and yes, sometimes even breakfast over the course of a week. It was a cold, blustery week and I felt raw and mean inside, and this was exactly what I needed to get me through. It didn’t turn winter to spring, but it felt healing and nourishing. It made me feel better to have eaten it.

Decadent chocolate desserts can cry their eyes out, because sometimes romance comes in odd, odd packages. Because if this is not a love story, I don’t know what is.





Rice and Smothered Cabbage “Sloop”

adapted from Marcella Hazan


Smothered Cabbage:

2 pounds green or Savoy cabbage, cored and shredded very fine

1 sweet onion, chopped

1/3 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

salt and black pepper

1 tablespoon white wine or red wine vinegar

1 cup chicken stock

2-inch piece of rind from the end of Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese*


In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and the onion on medium heat. Cook and stir the onion until it becomes deeply golden. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add a generous sprinkling of salt and quite a bit of black pepper. Add the cabbage and the vinegar and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to coat the cabbage with the olive oil. Add the chicken stock and the Parmesan rind and plop the lid on the Dutch oven. Turn the heat down to low and cook the cabbage to DEATH, stirring occasionally, at least 1 1/2 hours (I cooked mine for 2). Remove what remains of the Parmesan rind and discard.

*You are saving those rinds from the hind end of the Parmesan cheese and freezing them, aren’t you? They’re magic little flavor bombs, so don’t let me hear that you’re wasting them. Don’t let me hear it!


To Turn it Into “Sloop”:

Smothered Cabbage, from above

3-5 cups homemade or very high-quality chicken stock or beef stock (this will depend if you favor more of a risotto consistency or a soupy one. Use 3 cups for the former)

2/3 cup Italian Arborio rice (aka: risotto rice)

2 tablespoons butter

2/3 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

salt and black pepper

freshly chopped parsley

red pepper flakes (optional, but I totally recommend them)

your best extra-virgin olive oil


Add 3 cups chicken stock to the cabbage in the Dutch oven and heat to a boil over medium heat. When mixture boils, add rice and turn down the heat so it’s at the lowest, slowest bubble of a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until rice is al dente. Add up to 2 more cups of chicken stock to your desired consistency. It should be a little soupy but still have heft, like a thin risotto. Add the butter and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste for salt and pepper and add accordingly. If using, stir in crushed red pepper flakes.

Let sloop sit for about 5 minutes, then ladle into warm bowls and top with chopped parsley, a generous bloop of extra-virgin olive oil and extra Parmesan cheese.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kel February 14, 2018 at 7:39 am

1. This recipe looks intriguing, especially as someone who didn’t taste cabbage til she was an adult.

2. I hate the word “unctuous”.

3. I love the word “sloop” but I keep pronouncing it “shloop” in my head for some stupid reason.

4. I need more Parmesan rind in my life.


Dana Talusani February 15, 2018 at 9:12 am


I think “shloop” sounds like a dance. :)


Annie February 14, 2018 at 8:02 am

Now I have some high quality chicken stock hanging out just waiting to be used in the fridge. I think this sloop may be my Valentine’s Day gift to myself! Lol. Sounds pretty damn perfect!


Dana Talusani February 15, 2018 at 9:12 am

Oooh, that would be a good use for it! A super-rich chicken stock makes a big difference!


Lisa L. February 14, 2018 at 7:30 pm

I love cabbage. I love cabbage soup – I have a go-to favorite I use all the time. This also looks amazing and the cabbage in my crisper drawer will be called upon immediately to try it.


Sherri February 27, 2018 at 8:19 am

I actually love cabbage – going to try


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