Large head of cabbage, little jar of chiles - boom

  • Charred Napa Cabbage with Calabrian Chiles is a sophisticated dish. Jennifer Chase / Washington Post

Washington Post
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

High heat does luscious things to cabbage. I was reminded of that during a recent meal at Centrolina in CityCenterDC. Chef-restaurateur Amy Brandwein gives napa cabbage quarters a quick turn in her wood-fired oven, where their frilly edges crisp up and their layers of leaves go meltingly sideways, slightly sweeter.

They are topped with a dressing that relies on a jarred condiment sold in Centrolina’s market and elsewhere: crushed Calabrian chiles in oil, which are far less threatening than their fiery color and visible seeds suggest. You see them sometimes strewn across good-quality Neapolitan pies or over a chopped salad.

Our table dug in and demolished the dish, which Brandwein offers as a starter. I was so smitten that this recipe is the result, with the chef’s blessings.

An oven cranked up to 500 degrees won’t give you the smokiness of Centrolina’s presentation, but the softness and char will be there. Serve it with a portion of creamy burrata cheese, and I’m convinced you’ll be happy with this simple, sophisticated cabbage as a main course – and you’ll find ways to use up that small jar of chiles faster than you think.

Charred Napa Cabbage with Calabrian Chiles

In testing, we tried to substitute the Calabrian chiles with a mix of finely chopped roasted red peppers (packed in oil) and crushed red pepper flakes; the flavor was not quite the same, but acceptable here, in a pinch.

Serve with crusty bread, for mopping up any dressing.

3 large cloves garlic

2 to 3 tablespoons jarred crushed Calabrian chiles in oil (see headnote)

3 tablespoons agave nectar

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

½ large head napa cabbage (about 1½ pounds)

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

10 chives

4 ounces (1 ball) burrata cheese

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven; preheat to 500 degrees.

Meanwhile, mince the garlic and transfer to a jar with a tightfitting lid. Add the Calabrian chiles in oil (to taste), the agave nectar, vinegar and the olive oil. Seal and shake to form an emulsified dressing.

Cut the cabbage half lengthwise into two equal pieces, keeping the core intact but discarding any wilted layers of leaves. Place in a cast-iron skillet or on a rimmed baking sheet, cut sides up. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast (upper rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cabbage becomes tender, its leaves separate and char on the edges.

While the cabbage quarters are in the oven, mince the chives.

Let the cabbage quarters sit for 2 minutes (in the pan or on the baking sheet). Use a long spatula to then transfer one to each serving plate; drizzle each portion with 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Top each cabbage quarter with chives.

Serve warm with the burrata, which also benefits from a drizzle of the dressing.