Cabbage, fennel and flecks of golden saffron

The inspiration for this dish comes from an anonymous person who wrote the Liber de Coquina, ricette di cultura medievale in the 14 century – the recipe was entitled cavolo bianco, finocchio e cipolle con zafferano.

It looks spectacular with the flaming orange dye of the golden saffron oozing out over its neighbouring ingredients as if in a watercolour.

You can make this ahead of time, and reheat in the oven.

It goes particularly well with a beef, ale and Toulouse sausage pie.

Recipe for cabbage, fennel and flecks of golden saffron

For about six

  • 500g/1 lb 2 oz white cabbage (about half a cabbage)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 generous-sized bulb of fennel
  • 120 ml/½ cup dry vermouth (I use Noilly Prat)
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 tsp smoked salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp strands of saffron – bit difficult to measure, take a good pinch between thumb and forefinger
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 2 tbsps walnut oil
  1. Warm the oil gently in a large frying pan.
  2. Peel the onion and slice it into crescent shapes. Fry for five minutes or so – until it starts to caramelise.
  3. Add three tablespoons of water, and braise the onions for another ten minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, boil a full kettle.
  5. Cut the fennel bulb into four (discarding any exterior bits that look the worse for wear, but retaining any frothy greenery).
  6. Cut the cabbage into wedges which are about the same size as the fennel quarters.
  7. Pour the contents of the just boiled kettle into a large saucepan, add handful of salt (approx. 3 teaspoons) and boil for up to ten minutes – until they are just becoming soft.
  8. Fish the fennel and cabbage out using a slotted spoon and add to the onion in the frying pan.
  9. Add the vermouth and continue to cook for about ten minutes, until the alcohol has evaporated.
  10. Add 180ml/¾cup of the cooking water, a knob of butter and the saffron. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for another quarter of an hour.
  11. Serve with the walnut oil drizzled over, and the chopped fennel greenery strewn artistically over.
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