Glaswegian readers will be aware of Roots & Fruits*, the popular green grocer, florist and deli. I bought a pie there last week that was one of the most unique and tastiest pies I have ever eaten. A Study in Cabbage Pie is my attempt at emulating and then bettering it.
I spent a few hours last night reading about cabbage pie. The cabbage pie appears to be a Russian dish and all recipes I read used the same principles of cabbage and sliced or diced boiled eggs in a white sauce or very little sauce at all. The pastry used varied, with some using the standard short crust or puff, and some opting for a more bread-like encasing, resembling a calzone.
Roots & Fruits’ cabbage pie
All I could remember about the pie was that it contained cabbage, onions, butter beans and tarragon. Whereas these ingredients would probably have made a 0 burr pie, I wanted to aim higher. It was obvious that I would have to come up with more ingredients to boost the flavour without encroaching on the cabbage, which I wanted to keep as the star of the show. I am almost certain that the R&F pie did not include eggs, and regardless, I firmly believe that boiled eggs would not add anything to the pie. Though, I reserve the right to change this opinion. Of course, I could have gone to R&F to find out what was in the pie, but where would the fun in that be?
The Roots & Fruits deli sells only vegetarian produce, therefore, there would not have been any meat in the pie. Now, as a non-vegetarian, the most obvious question is whether the addition of meat would enhance or retract from the pie. Last night I had toyed with the idea of adding rabbit to the pie, however, this seemed to be a step too far, and is perhaps something for a future iteration of the recipe.
One of the most fundamental principals of cooking is this: fat is flavour. Without the restraints of creating a vegetarian pie, it seemed silly not to include animal fat in the recipe. I wanted to be careful of not over-powering the cabbage flavour with meat, and so went for a handful of smoked bacon lardons.
2. Savoy or green cabbage, red or white onion?
In hindsight, This is an area I should have looked into more. In my experience, I have found green cabbages to yield a sweeter flavour when compared to the Savoy, and the sweetness is something I wanted to achieve in this meat-lite pie. Additionally, I was not sure the wrinkled texture of Savoy would have been pleasant when biting into the pie. Sweetness was also the reason I opted for red onion over white.
3. Cream, creme fraiche or milk?
It was obvious to me that the sauce would have to be a white sauce. I had initially decided to go with creme fraiche, however, a last minute worry about this giving the filling too much of a tartness meant that I switched to single cream.
4. Filling in the blanks
I wanted to keep the ingredients as first principles as possible, as it will be easier to modify the recipe when there are fewer elements involved. English mustard and garlic were the only other ingredients I felt were needed for the filling. My Chinese instincts mean that I rely too much on garlic as a base of flavour for all of my cooking. However, I felt that it was justified this time round.
Ingredients for cabbage pie 0.1:
I am not confident enough to define quantities yet, so I will omit them this time round.
Short crust pastry
Egg (for glazing)
Salt and black pepper
As you can see, I went for a ready made pastry, because I really was not in the mood and as any chef will tell you, pastry cooking is not real cooking. What I did do, however, was press a handful of chopped walnuts into the pastry. The bottom of the encasing was then blind-baked – a new technique that I learnt for this.
I made sure to really brown the lardons before adding in the rest of the ingredients. I cooked everything for around 15 minutes on a low heat to ensure that the onion and cabbage had become completely softened. The cream, mustard and tarragon was added at the end.
The sauce was slightly too runny and so I added beurre manie to thicken it – the second new technique I learnt.
I applied the pastry top, painted it with egg-wash and cut an all-important cross in the centre of each pie, before placing the pies back in the oven for around 15 minutes.
I was unable to taste the walnuts, and my gut feeling is to remove them from the recipe, rather than forcing the issue by increasing the amount in the next iteration of the cabbage pie.
The bacon lardons turned out to be a worthwhile gambit, as it added an extra dimension to the flavour that would have been actively missed if it hadn’t been there.
I had mentioned earlier that sweetness was something I wanted to achieve, choosing to use green cabbage and red onion, and choosing not to use creme fraiche. I had not considered that the pie may turn out to be too sweet, which was the case here. Next time I will stick with my gut instincts and use creme fraiche.
The filling tasted good, but it was even tastier with tomato ketchup. I am now wondering whether this is something that can be helped. Could the tartness of the ketchup be something that should be incorporated into the cabbage pie, or is pie inevitably better with ketchup applied to it post-cooking?
These are all problems that need to be solved in the second iteration of cabbage pie.
* I had originally included a link to Roots & Fruits, but it seriously lagged out my browser. I’m not messing around, I’m talking NHS computer lag. If you still want to visit their website then click here at your own peril.