Cooking from memory

Last updated 11:49 17/07/2013

Have you ever eaten something delicious in a restaurant, and dreamed of it, and tried to recreate it at home?

RCGAs I mentioned recently, I reckon the best cabbage I have ever eaten was last year, at The Matterhorn. It was a red cabbage gratin, made by then-head chef Dave Verheul. It contained cabbage, dates, parmesan and... that's all I know for sure.

Monday evening was helluva cold here in Capital City. I had some nice, fat, juicy-looking pork sausages, and Plus One wasted no time in declaring it to be a mashed potato kind of day. But what I couldn't stop thinking of as a vegetable side was that red cabbage gratin I ate a while back. It would be the perfect wintry accompaniment to the bangers 'n' mash.

Only problem was, I didn't have any idea how it had been accomplished. And Dave has moved across the Tasman (where he is now helming the kitchen at the rather magnificent-looking Town Mouse, you lucky, lucky Melburnians!), so I couldn't even call him and ask him how it is done (no guarantees he would have told me, anyway).

I Google "red cabbage gratin", and it throws up a few suggestions, but none that seem a perfect match for Dave's version. They include cream, butter, and panko crumbs. Ah, sod it - I can't find anything that looks remotely similar. I'm going off-map. I'm going to freestyle it.

I start by chopping half a red cabbage, and sautéing it in slightly too much butter and a couple of crushed cloves of garlic. Turns out we are all out of dates, so I improvise the sweet aspect by grating in an apple, and adding some golden raisins. Next I grate in maybe three-quarters of a cup of Parmesan. I think it is maybe getting a bit rich tasting, so slosh in a bit of cider vinegar, and cook the whole lot off till it seems to be just coming together.

Then I finish it with a generous sprinkle of panko crumbs, a little more Parmesan, and a few blobs of butter (the last of the fancy stuff from my "taste test" a couple of weeks back). And I throw it all into the awesome Bosch oven (which I still love, love, love), and bake it at around 180 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the cheesy crumb is brown and crispy and the cabbage mix below is pleasingly gooey.

After letting it sit for a while, to come together, and finishing frying the snarlers and mashing the spuds (bit of nutmeg and chopped parsley and milk), I dish it all up. And you know what? While it is by no means as awesome as Dave's fancy, spectacular red cabbage gratin that I recalled, it is still delicious, and, as I suspected, a fine complement to the potatoes and sausages. The apple, I think, is a nice addition - it makes it both caramelly and sweet (in the absence of the dates), and I was right to add a little vinegar to emphasise the tartness in the apple.

It is a different way to eat a vegetable that has had a really bad rap, and it always pleases me to make something not just tolerable but delicious out of something so maligned.

So, anyway, I drop Dave a line and tell him I had a crack at the cabbage gratin, and ask him if he might consider sharing his "magic" recipe. To my surprise, he responds in the affirmative, almost straight away - and I quote:

Blanch cabbage wedges until thoroughly cooked in salted water

Reduce cream by 1/3 with bay, thyme, garlic and shallot

Caramelize diced apple in a pan with butter

Chop prunes or dates

Make croutons

Grate parmesan

"*Arrange cabbage in a pan, stuff with apples and prunes, pour cream over the cabbage, sprinkle with croutons and a fair amount of parmesan, season well, 200 degrees for 20-25 mins.

"This old version is pretty rough, you need to come over and eat the new one..."

So there you go - you now know a whole lot more about how to make the magnificent Red Cabbage Gratin than I did when I attempted it. There is still a quarter of a cabbage sitting in the fridge (I made some bhajis with red cabbage and onion last night - bloody good actually), so I'm thinking I will give it another bash. It is like I've gone cabbage crazy. Jeebers. Good luck, everyone - let me know how you fare.

Have you ever had a crack at making something awesome you have eaten out, and it turned out not half bad? Or bloody awful? Anyone else have a take on red cabbage gratin? Anyone in Wellington (or Melbourne) eaten Dave's version? What'd you reckon?

Many thanks to Dave Verheul for sharing the recipe - and I implore you to go visit him at The Town Mouse.

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