Cabbage gets a bad rap that I don't understand. It's dirt cheap, lasts forever in the refrigerator (compared to most vegetables, at least), tastes great both raw and cooked, and responds well to all kinds of seasonings. It's also available year round, which is perhaps why many people take it for granted or ignore it altogether.
Shredding Cabbage -- No Fancy Equipment Needed
Cabbage has yet another advantage over other vegetables, one that seems trivial, perhaps, but which I think is quite cool: It shreds itself. By this I mean that all you need to turn cabbage into shreds is a knife; you can forget the grating blade of a food processor or even a traditional box grater. After removing and discarding the top layer of leaves, cut around and remove the tough core, then cut the cabbage into quarters and thinly slice each quarter crosswise. The layered leaves will fall naturally into long shreds, which you can then cut into smaller pieces if you like. The whole process takes five minutes and leaves you with cabbage that's ready for turning into coleslaw, stir-frying, or braising.
Cabbage Varieties -- Savoy, Napa, Red, and Green
Of all the varieties of cabbage, my favorite is Savoy, which has beautifully crinkled green leaves and which is rarely tough or bitter. Napa cabbage, which is oblong rather than round and mostly white, is also a good bet for slaws and stir-fries. Red cabbage and smooth-leaf green cabbage are often a little tougher and more assertive in flavor than Savoy and Napa, but I still love them. All varieties of cabbage are fairly interchangeable, though their cooking time can vary depending on how delicate the leaves are.
What to Look for When Buying Cabbage
Whichever variety you buy, look for heavy, tightly packed heads without any discoloration. Gigantic cabbage taste no different from small ones, but you might want to avoid a five-pounder if you're cooking for only a few people. (Though, again, cabbage keeps for at least a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, so you can buy a big head and use it a little at a time if you like; just be sure to keep it wrapped in plastic.)
Ways to Cook Cabbage
The simplest cabbage dish I know is buttered cabbage, which is pretty much what it sounds like: cabbage leaves boiled in salted water until just tender and then tossed with melted butter. There are only a few things you need to do to get this recipe right: First, don't overcook the cabbage; it should still have a little bit of bite to it when you remove it from the water. Second, drain it thoroughly before combining it with the butter; if it's still got water in its crevices, the dish will be soggy and damp. Third, don't skimp on salt and pepper, since they really pull their weight here. If you want to add a little more flavor, try adding a little minced onion, garlic, or ginger -- or a few pinches of your favorite spice -- to the butter as it melts.
Almost as simple, but a little more boldly flavored (thanks to the addition of Italian sausage), is my recipe for sautéed cabbage. The shredded cabbage absorbs the meaty sausage fat and turns soft and rich in texture, and a splash of vinegar and a sprinkle of fresh rosemary add a little extra flavor. You can use bacon instead of sausage if you prefer, or even prosciutto crisped in a little olive oil -- or you can just use oil and dispense of the meat altogether, as long as you garnish each serving with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.