A Chef’s Go-To Thanksgiving Main When Turkey Just Won’t Do
An instant crowd-pleaser.
Published Oct 19, 2020 6:00 AM
I am married to an aspiring vegetarian, which can be trying on Thanksgiving. On this holiday in particular, vegetarians around the country find themselves on the fringes of a family debate over rituals of preparation: spatchcocked, smoked, or the big cheat—draped in bacon. Every year my husband wrangles me into his own fraught personal debate over whether or not the turkey actually warrants a lapse in his otherwise highly principled eating. Predictably he caves, slides a few noncommittal slices onto his plate, and spends the rest of the night lamenting the turkey’s unwarranted spot as the centerpiece of the table.
The turkey is an exercise in technique—everyone has their method for how to gussy up the very driest member of the poultry family. With aspirations to make a Thanksgiving vegetarian entrée to banish Tofurky for generations to come, I stole a few pages from the old bird’s playbook. Instead of coaxing butter and seasoning under the turkey skin, here we slide it under the outer leaves of a common cabbage, roasting it whole for savory, parchment-thin skin and a steamy tender “flesh.” Dare I anoint the cabbage as the turkey of the vegetable kingdom? Not much to write home about on its own, but in the right hands and with a flick of the wrist, it’s worthy of a Norman Rockwell moment.
Whole Roasted Cabbage
Serves 4 to 6 Total time: 6 hours Note: All of the elements of this dish can be made ahead of time and assembled for serving. Instructions in the recipe for proper storage.
Croutons: 2 1-inch-thick slices sourdough bread 1 garlic clove ⅛ tsp red chile flakes Pinch of kosher salt 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Cabbage: 1 approximately 3-lb green cabbage 3 tbsp cold unsalted butter 1 tsp kosher salt A few cracks of black pepper Flaky sea salt, for serving Parsley, chopped for garnish
Whipped ricotta: 2 cups whole-milk ricotta 1/2 tsp kosher salt Zest of 1 lemon
Salsa verde: 1 lemon, zested and juiced ½ tsp kosher salt 1 ⅓ cups parsley leaves, stems removed and finely chopped 4 green onions, tops and root ends trimmed and thinly sliced on a diagonal 1 garlic clove, microplaned ¼ tsp red chile flakes ¼ tsp smoked paprika ½ cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil
To make the croutons:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place the rack on the lower third. Cut the bread into 1/2-inch chunks. Microplane garlic clove into a bowl, then add red chile flakes, salt, and olive oil. Toss the bread with the seasoning and spread croutons on an 8-by-8 or 9-by-13 metal baking pan. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, until golden brown, flipping halfway through. Remove from oven and transfer to a bowl. Wipe the baking dish clean of any crumbs and line with tinfoil. (If making croutons ahead of time, store for up to three days in an airtight container.)
To make the cabbage:
Wash and dry cabbage, removing any tough, loose outer leaves.
Smash 2 tablespoons butter with salt and pepper in a mortar and pestle until combined. Stab the cabbage about 10 times with a paring knife, wiggling the knife around a bit in each puncture to create some space. Using your fingers, slip blobs of the seasoned butter underneath the edge of the top layer of leaves, trying not to rip them as you go. Pin the edge of the leaf tight to the head of the cabbage using one thumb, and with the other thumb press and smoosh the butter inward over the surface of the cabbage. Continue to tuck and smoosh along all revealed leaf edges. Smear remaining tablespoon of seasoned butter on the surface, paying extra attention to the holes in the flesh.
Roast the cabbage on the prepared baking dish for 35 minutes. Reduce heat to 250 degrees and add the additional tablespoon of reserved butter to the baking dish. Roast for 4 1/2 to 5 hours total. Baste cabbage with the pan drippings every hour. When the cabbage is done, it should be fork-tender and dark golden brown all over. (If making ahead, cover with tinfoil and refrigerate. When ready to reheat, heat oven to 300 degrees. Slice cabbage in half, place cut-side down on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until warm throughout.)
To make the whipped ricotta:
While the cabbage is roasting, place ricotta, salt, and lemon zest in a food processor and blitz for 30 seconds to a minute until smooth, light, and fluffy, resembling whipped cream. Store covered in fridge until ready to serve or for up to three days.
To make the salsa verde:
Mix lemon zest, salt, parsley, green onion, garlic, chile flakes, and paprika together in a small bowl. Add olive oil and stir, then add lemon juice to combine.
Allow cabbage to cool slightly and slice into 4 to 6 wedges. Brush the flesh with any remaining pan drippings, season with a pinch of flaky sea salt, and arrange on a platter. Spoon a generous amount of ricotta over top, and finish with the salsa verde; you can serve extra toppings on the side. Scatter the platter with croutons and garnish with parsley.
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This story was originally published in November 2019 and has since been updated.