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a cabbage obsession

shaved cabbage salad with parmigiano reggiano & aged balsamic

If it is true that imitation is the highest form of flattery, then chef Andy Bunn of Cafe Sopra at Fratelli Fresh in the inner city Sydney suburb of Waterloo should consider himself well and truly flattered. You see it was Andy, or more specifically his to-die-for shaved cabbage salad that kick started my current cabbage obsession.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Cabbage?? An obsession??

And I know that they aren’t two words that you often see together in a sentence, let alone next to one another. But just humour me for a minute and put aside your thoughts of sulphurous overcooked boiled mush, or stinky fermented sauerkraut. You see I’m talking fresh as fresh crunchy veg, delicately shaved to give a lovely light texture that forms the perfect carrier of your dressing of choice: an entirely different beast indeed.

I still remember my first encounter with Andy’s salad with vivid clarity. I was at Sopra for lunch with a dear friend and felt like something light but flavoursome. The salads there are always good so I limited my search to the salad section of the menu. To be honest I think I ordered the shaved cabbage with reggiano & aged balsamic more out of a perverse curiosity than desire. So you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I was presented with a little mound of shoestring cabbage ribbons supplemented by the superbly intense cheese, so finely grated that it was almost invisible, and highlighted with a crowning drizzle of the slightly sweet but punchy ancient balsamic. Perfect lunchtime fare.

Since then, whenever I see cabbage salad on a menu, I just have to order it.

There’s been the gorgeous shaved red cabbage salad with gorgonzola, walnuts and raisins at my current fav Italian joint, a tavola. And then there was the white cabbage and mint salad with shaved grana padano and a fresh zesty lemon dressing at Love Supreme. On the home front I’ve dabbled with Karen Martini’s version with fresh mint and caraway seeds as a side to rich roast pork belly and while each of these salads have had their charms, they don’t have a patch on the original.

shaved cabbage salad with parmigiano reggiano & aged balsamic
serves 4.

Inspired by Andy Bunn of Cafe Sopra.

As with anything as simple as this dish, you really are relying on the quality of your ingredients to shine through so it’s worth while splashing out on the best quality cheese and aged balsamic vinegar you can afford.

And of course a wilted old cabbage isn’t going to do you any favours. Andy uses baby Savoy cabbage which is why he gets such a delicate fine texture to his salad. While I am on the lookout for a baby Savoy, I found that a regular white cabbage works pretty well.

The only other thing to keep in mind is your choice of olio. I prefer to go for a mid range oil with a good depth of flavour but not so super intense in it’s grassiness that it clashes with the cheese.

The only other secret to this salad is to make sure your knife is sharp and your hand steady. We want the finest shavings here not chunky ribbons. I tend to be pretty ruthless at discarding any chunky bits that are going to mess with my salad texture but it’s up to you.

½ white or Savoy cabbage
¼ – 1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
125g (4 1/2oz) finely grated parmigiano reggiano
aged balsamic vinegar (preferably >8 years old)

Discard outer leaves of your cabbage and then get to work shaving as finely as you can with a sharp knife, discarding any thick ribs as you go. Place in a large bowl, drizzle over 1/4 C oil and toss. If the salad seems a little dry, toss through some more oil. Allow to stand for at least 15mins or up to a couple of hours.

Toss though cheese and season with s&p. Arrange on a serving platter or salad bowl and drizzle over a sparing amount of balsamic. Great as a side dish to pasta especially if it happens to be served alongside fresh tagliatelle al ragu cooked by a cute Irishman.

cafe sopra
7 danks st
waterloo
+61 2 9699 3174

a tavola
348 Victoria St
Darlinghurst, NSW
Australia
+61 2 9331 7871

love surpeme pizza
180b Oxford St
Paddington, NSW
Australia
+61 2 9331 1779

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Dominic 19 May, 2008, 12:12 pm

    My God…how fabulous is that cabbage salad at Sopra!!?!?!?!

    I find that the Chinese mandolins they sell next door work best for the fine shavings you really need to make this great. And when the salad first went on the Sopra menu, the girls there told me it had a little lemon juice in the dressing as well, which has worked fantastically for me.
    Finally….love your site!

  • aforkfulofspaghetti 19 May, 2008, 1:42 pm

    what a lovely, simple, but very effective idea!

  • Rebecca 19 May, 2008, 5:29 pm

    Wow, this looks like a recipe I could even make.

    One thing we do have in Laos is cabbage and great cheese.

  • em 19 May, 2008, 11:32 pm

    Yummo! I have to admit to loving even the boiled, semi-mash cabbage that my grandmother makes as an accompaniment to silverside! I boil my cabbage with half and half milk and water, till the cabbage is al dente, than drain and mix in a large lump of salted butter and some crispy bacon. Mmmm I can taste it now. Yours looks absolutely gorgeous, I can’t wait to dig in. A food processor would probably work marvels in the cutting department too…

  • michelle @ TNS 20 May, 2008, 2:05 am

    i’ve only recently jumped on the fresh cabbage bandwagon (despite the terrible gas it causes, sorry for sharing too much!) having only been exposed to the stinky variety that’s been boiled to within an inch of its life. this looks delicious!

  • jules 20 May, 2008, 9:47 am

    I’m hearing you dominic.
    I was wondering if there was some lemon juice in there as well… will try it out next time

    thanks spagetti

    hope it works out for you rebecca. I’ve never been to laos but it’s definitely on my list

    thanks for sharing your cabbage tricks em… will have to work up to giving the cooked variety a go

    glad to hear you’re a cabbage convert too michelle… and thanks for mentioning the gas ;)

  • kathryn 21 May, 2008, 4:42 am

    Oh Jules, I’ve had that salad at Cafe Sopra. And isn’t it sublime? The simplicity of this dish always fills me with wonder.

    Worth getting a mandolin to make this alone. Would be wonderful with one of those sugarloaf cabbages that are available for a nano second in the middle of winter?

  • barbara 23 May, 2008, 2:28 am

    Just made this for lunch. Brilliant. I added a squeeze of lemon as I didn’t have any balsamic. Even without the balsamic it is delicious.

  • barbara 23 May, 2008, 2:29 am

    PS> I used a sugarloaf cabbage/

  • Dominic 23 May, 2008, 12:58 pm

    I also meant to say that I think at Sopra they use baby cabbages, which is why it is not available all year round.

  • Ten Minutes to Digest 24 May, 2008, 1:57 am

    I love people who make food look beautiful. I’ve always loved the delicate texture of cabbage, but I’ve always restricted it to Asian-influenced dishes. I’m excited for this new twist. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Jen 19 March, 2010, 11:28 am

    Cabbage is an obsession! I fry lightly in a pan with onion slivers and xo sauce then pour over my beaten egg to make a fabulous omelette which works really well with oyster sauce – weird but good

  • Jannine 20 February, 2011, 9:25 am

    I’m looking forward to trying your recipes Jules! I love cabbage, but am always on the lookout for recipes that don’t cause bad wind (cooked cabbage only) – caraway and dill seeds are good, but I prefer not to always use them.

  • laffin 4 July, 2011, 10:02 pm

    I love this recipe and make it often but I use feta cheese crumbles in place of the parmesan and white balsamic vinegar. So pretty and so yummy.

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