I came upon this soup by accident. I had a bit of ground pork in the fridge, and half a cabbage. I sprinkled the meat into an olive-oil burnished pan over a really quite low heat. I didn’t brown it so much as just sprinkled it into the pan. I had in mind a layered soup, with meat at the bottom, hard vegetables – all the fall vegetables I could find, possibly a turnip, probably some carrots, certainly potatoes, all cut into a very small, regular dice indeed, the real imprimatur of a good vegetable soup – on top of that, increasingly tender ones layered over hard, until on top would be some half moons of celery, the cabbage, and then tomatoes. All to be cooked over very low heat just to sweat their juices and let them seep tenderly down through each layer, amalgamating the flavors. When they were sweated and tender indeed, stock, broth, wine, or just water would make the whole into soup.
Cabbage and pork equals German, I thought, and German would mean vinegar and sour cream, too, as a topping for each finished bowl of soup.
This last time I did not have ground pork, but I had mutton, and so I started with that. At the end I forgot I had sour cream, so I used a dollop of yogurt. It fell short, somehow. I did not have fennel vinegar, which would have been outstanding, but I had a jar of last summer’s plump red raspberries that had been marinating for months in white vinegar, so I spooned that over the soup and yogurt and it was inexplicably incredible.
But that’s the thing with good fresh flavors – you might start by hankering after fennel, but unexpectedly really, truly raspberry thrills you with a certain gratefulness and joy.
In my book Tomato Imperative I called this simply and, some might say, unimaginatively,
Cabbage and Potato Soup• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 large garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and chopped
• 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
• ½-1 pound very lean ground pork (or beef or mutton, or... ostrich. Whatever you have on hand)
• 1 small hot pepper, chopped, or crumbled if dried
• 1 ½ cups finely diced late season vegetables (carrot, eggplant, fennel, sweet pepper, turnip, etc)
• 2 large potatoes cut in ¼ inch dice
• 2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
• 2 cups finely shredded cabbage
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 2 cups beef broth (thanks, SZ)
For the toppings:
• flavored vinegar
• crème fraiche, sour cream, or yogurt.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a deep but fairly broad pan. Strew in the garlic and onion, stir for a moment until they are slightly limp. Crumble the ground meat into the pan and mix with the onion and garlic. Add the hot pepper to taste and stir until the meat is just pink on the way to being browned. Layer in the mixed vegetables and over them the potatoes, then the tomatoes, then the cabbage. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is limp and the potatoes tender, keeping them at a low simmer. This might take 20 minutes, or 40. Then stir in the broth. Heat, season to taste, and serve in bowls topped with a spoonful of sour cream and one of vinegar.
A deeply satisfying supper!