Matt Jennings Proves that Cabbage Is the Underdog of Vegetables
Cabbage: It's not just for the grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
All photos by Farideh Sadeghi
Welcome to Health Goth, our column dedicated to cooking vegetables in ways that even our most cheeseburger-loving, juice-bar-loathing readers would approve of. Not everyone realizes this, but vegetables actually do taste good. We invite chefs to prove this assertion—and they do, time and time again.
Chefs aren’t known to have the healthiest habits. That sort of goes without saying of the hard-drinking, machismo-ridden industry where long hours and late nights lead to greasy, quick fast food meals. But Matt Jennings, chef-owner of the popular Boston spot Townsman, isn’t just a chef. He’s a dad of two kids under 10, and they take a lot of energy to keep up with. (His four year-old is a picky eater, which can be a bit of a pain in his ass, he says.) He recently made a commitment to making healthy lifestyle changes, and he’s keeping it up well.
Jennings is a born and raised New Englander, but the food of his home turf doesn’t exactly scream healthy—fried seafood, cream-heavy clam chowders, Whoopie pies. But there’s another staple dish in the New England culinary vernacular that’s not all that bad: corned beef and boiled cabbage. (All those Irish immigrants in south Boston made the winter green pretty popular over the years.) Jennings stopped by the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen a few weeks ago, just after his cookbook, Homegrown, was released. It’s a collection of recipes inspired by his upbringing in the coastal northeast. He talked us through a riff on a classic that only a Massachusetts native could create—a grilled cabbage wedge salad that turns the steakhouse staple on its head.
“Cabbage is a totally underrated vegetable,” he states, and then sets out to prove himself right.
Jennings starts with the one ingredient that is ostensibly not healthy here, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. This bacon is doing the Lord’s work. He cooks lardon-size chunks of bacon in a large cast iron skillet. When they’re golden brown and their fat has rendered out, he takes them out to strain on a paper towel.
Adding a bit of high-heat oil, he lays hefty wedges of bright purple cabbage cut-side down, letting the surface get beautifully, mouth-wateringly browned on both sides.
“Can I just say that I love everything about charred cabbage?” he says. The smell coming from this cast iron skillet is making a compelling argument as to why that might be.
When the wedges are just softened, he removes them from the heat and starts on the dressing.
A simple mustard dressing comes together by whisking whole-grain mustard, maple syrup, fennel seeds, cider vinegar and oil. He seasons to taste with salt and pepper. In another dry pan, he toasts off some pumpkin seeds to add a nutty crunch.
He plates the cabbage up with crisp slices of Asian pear and tart apple, and a few leaves of frisee lettuce. He drizzles the vinaigrette from above. "This is the money shot," he says.
MAKE THIS: Red Cabbage Wedge Salad
That's pretty much on point, because this salad both looks and smells so good, it's almost indecent.