Cabbage Gratin with Tempeh Bacon does the “freegan” thing

Savoy cabbage gratin with tempeh bacon

My menu plan this week included a Savoy cabbage gratin, accompanied by a photo but no recipe. I made the gratin starting with a recipe from Deborah Madison’s veggie cooking bible, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I initially didn’t post the recipe for two reasons: one, because I try not to post too many recipes from a single cookbook, to encourage people to buy the cookbooks I love; and two, because this was a strange little “in-between” recipe, not quite vegan but not quite full-blown eggs-and-dairy.

However I got a couple of requests for the recipe almost as soon as it went up, so I checked around and the original recipe for the gratin is already posted online. So the cat is out of the bag, as it were, and I’ll post my annotated version here. The recipe is just a step away from veganization, and hopefully my notes on the changes that did work will help someone take it that final step. I’m even tagging it as vegan because I feel sure that an experienced vegan cook could take this gratin to vegan-recipe paradise without a second thought.

Why not entirely vegan? Well, last week Duck and my families had a lovely Chanukah party that included sour cream for the potato latkes. Nobody wanted to take home the sour cream, so under the rules of “freegan” eating (if it’s destined for the trash we may as well eat it, at least in terms of our environmental/animal welfare/consumer impact) I brought it back with me. And when I was looking for something simple to do with one of my two Savoy cabbages I decided a gratin would be a good place to use some of the sour cream.

Nearly Vegan Cabbage Gratin with Tempeh Bacon
Below I give you the original recipe with my changes and notes in italics

Butter and freshly grated Parmesan for the dish (I used Earth Balance and nutritional yeast flakes)
1 1/2 pounds cabbage diced into 2 inch squares (I used one large Savoy cabbage)
1/3 cup flour (I used Pamela’s GF baking mix, which contains leavening and xanthan gum)
1 cup milk (I used hemp milk)
1/4 cup creme fraiche or cream (I used the sour cream)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
3 eggs (I used Energ-G egg replacer equiv. to 3 eggs)
3 T. minced parsley
salt and pepper
4 strips of tempeh bacon
Other possible additions: mustard, other cheeses, fresh dill, caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 375.

Butter a gratin dish and coat the sides with nutritional yeast/parmesan.

Boil cabbage for 5 minutes in salted water (or steam in a steamer basket for ~8-10 minutes to preserve nutrients).

While the cabbage is cooking, pan-fry the tempeh bacon in a pan with a little olive oil until the bacon is brown and a bit crisp. Cut bacon into small pieces.

Rinse and drain the cabbage, pressing out as much water as possible.

Whisk together flour, milk, cream, tomato paste, egg (replacer), parsley, salt, and pepper, until smooth, and then add tempeh bacon and cabbage, stirring to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared gratin dish.

Bake uncovered for 50 minutes (or 70 minutes, which is how long it took to get firm with the ingredients I was using) until firm and lightly brown. To check for doneness, use a wooden spatula to gently pull apart the top layers of cabbage. If the gratin is still runny in the middle, keep cooking until it becomes firm. Keep an eye on the top layer to ensure it doesn’t burn.

Serve hot.

Savoy Cabbage

The last straggling survivor from the Week 9 box was this lovely crinkly head of Savoy cabbage. (Well, that’s not counting the napa cabbage, of course, but we all know how I feel about that.) I kept putting off cooking it because what I really wanted to make, what I kept fantasizing about until I would catch myself drooling at odd times, was a wonderful dish called ribollita, which is a Tuscan bread soup. I first had this soup courtesy of my mom’s boyfriend, who is an amazing chef, especially of Italian and French cuisine, and I immediately fell in love. That was many years ago, and he gave me the recipe, but I’d never made it on my own. And now, sadly, wheat and I are seriously estranged for health reasons. And I knew that my dense little slices of gluten-free bread were in no way going to make the pillowy bread stew of my Tuscan dreams.

Ribollita (Tuscan bread soup)

So you know what? I decided to go for it. I got one of my two favorite kinds of bread – potato rosemary – because if you’re going to go down, do it in a blaze of (rosemary-scented) glory. And I prepared the soup, using the whole head of cabbage because the cabbage is one of the best parts. And if I fell immediately asleep with the spoon still in my hand from wheat-induced fatigue (which I truly did) at least my dreams were sweet ones, full of savory warm goodness. What’s “comfort food” in Italian? I’m pretty sure it’s ribollita.

Ribollita (Tuscan Bread Soup)

1 1/4 C. cannellini beans (I used canned – otherwise cook separately until tender)
4 T. EV olive oil
8 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice (I used tempeh bacon)
1/2 stalk celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice (I skipped b/c I didn’t want to buy a whole thing of celery)
3 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, cut into 1-inch dice (I used the whole head)
1 leek, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 T. tomato paste
4 C. stock*
4 C. water*
6 thin slices coarse-textured white bread (I used potato-rosemary bread – yum!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fruit EV olive oil
1/3 C. grated Parmesan cheese

Place half the cooked beans in a blender or food processor and process until smooth, adding water or broth if necessary. Set beans and bean puree aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is light golden, 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, cabbage, leek, potatoes, onion and tomato paste. Add stock and water to cover by 1 inch. (*I ended up needing more stock and water than recipe calls for because I used more beans, cabbage, etc. I used about 6 cups of each, total.) Simmer until the vegetables are very soft, about 1 hour.

Add the beans and bean puree and simmer 5 minutes. Add the bread and stir together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool one hour or overnight.

To serve, bring to a boil. Serve immediately, drizzled with fruity, high quality olive oil and sprinkled with cheese. (These toppings are not optional toppings – they really complete the soup in an essential way.)

Serves 6 to 8.

I tried to eat this accompanied by a salad of lovely red-leaf lettuce, but I fell asleep before I could get to the salad course!