In honor of February, the time before the tax return arrives, the month that begs for creativity, we have been exploring the eternal possibility of the cabbage this week. While my girls have been making their valentines, I have been chopping, rolling, stuffing, and falling in love with the cabbage.

Why cabbage? Well, it’s cheap,  local in most parts these days, and, it seems to me,  drastically underutilized.
Cabbage week has been a great success, and  I must say that I have learned a little bit about this generous vegetable:

That a few cabbages go a long way. With four cabbages, we have feasted like royalty. Four cabbages became a decadent and buttery stew, they twirled and whirled to become fancy stuffed cabbage, and they made the most lovely sagey potato gratin. We have sauteed them with fragrant fennel seeds, and warmed them gently into a slaw.

That the cabbage is a giving vegetable. Unlike some specimens of the vegetable kingdom that challenge you to brave their thorns and stems and skins, the cabbage offers a half here, a half tomorrow; it invites you to take a bit off of it’s happy orb, to chop a bit finely or roughly if you prefer, and to do what you like.

That the cabbage is beautiful, and loves to be photographed, is pleasing to hold, to look at, and to prepare.

That the cabbage may need to be forced upon its eater. Its flavor is far superior to its reputation, and therefore we must ignore the forceful mumblings of those who profess not to be "cabbage people". When presented with such a guest, a gentle urging is necessary, such as one would give a child, "Just a bite. Just a quick try." And soon, the plate will be clear.

Today, I’d like to share our three favorites from this past week.

Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup
adapted from Moosewood New Classics

serves 2-3, but will double perfectly

3 cups cubed bread (any kind will do but a sourdough or a hearty rye will be especially nice)
3 tablespoons butter
3 cups thinly sliced cabbage (red or green or a mixture)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup grated havarti dill cheese (or fontina or gruyere if that is what you have)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put a medium pot of salted water on to boil. While the oven is preheating, lay the cubed bread on a baking sheet and throw it in the oven for a few minutes so it can get a little harder. Take the bread out of the oven, and spread the cubes evenly in an ovenproof casserole dish. Melt two of the tablespoons of butter and drizzle it over the bread cubes.
When the water boils, blanch the cabbage until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Drain well, and spread the cabbage over the bread. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and stir in the nutmeg, pepper and salt. Pour the seasoned butter over the cabbage and bread. Pour the stock over everything and evenly spread the cheese on top.

Bake uncovered until the cheese starts to brown, 25 or 30 minutes, Serve immediately.

Warm Cabbage and Apple Slaw
adapted from Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Vegetables
serves 4

1/2 red cabbage, cored and cut into thin ribbons
1 small onion, halved and cut into thin slices
1 crisp apple, peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large sautee pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onions turn translucent and start to brown, about 1 minute. Add the apple and cook for another minute. Add the cabbage and a bit of water, and cook until the cabbage starts to soften but is still crunchy, 3-5 minutes. Add the vinegar and lemon juice, and toss well. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.

Cabbage and Potato Gratin with Sage
from Deborah Madison, Local Flavors

1 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced to 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 pounds green cabbage, cut into 1-inch ribbons
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 1/2 cups milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter an 8×12 gratin or baking dish. Bring a gallon of water to boil.

Add one tablespoon of salt to the water, and add the potatoes. Cook until nearly tender, about 6 minutes, and remove with a slotted spoon, keeping the water boiling on the stove. Put the potatoes into a colander and set aside. Put the cabbage into the water, and cook for 5 minutes. Don’t worry if the water doesn’t return to a boil. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl, and drain the cabbage in the colander, rinsing under cool water. Wrap the cabbage in a kitchen towel to absorb excess water, giving it a few twists. Put the cabbage in the bowl with the potatoes.

Melt the butter in a small skillet with the garlic and sage. Cook for about 1 minute, not letting the garlic brown. Pour it over the cabbage and potatoes. Toss well, taste, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.

Whisk the milk, eggs, flour and parmesan together, reserving a bit of parmesan for the top. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and cabbage and top with the bit of parmesan. Bake until firm and lightly browned, about 50 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.