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III.242 Another way to prepare a bulb of kohlrabi.

Scappi, Bartolomeo, Scully, Terence (trans.), The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro cuoco(Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2008)

Always on the lookout for good vegetarian-friendly recipes to try out, I came across this one. At the time, I wasn't sure what kohlrabi was so looked it up and discovered it was a cabbage that looked like a turnip, and a winter vegetable. Since I didn't think I'd be likely to find them locally, I put aside thought of this - until I spotted them in my local Asian fruit & vege store.

So, the trial:

Scappi says to cut the kohlrabi into slices - but not what size the slices should be. Given that kohlrabi bulbs are at the large end of bulb-size, I first quartered mine. Then, because he says that the bulb should be cooked "vigorously rather than slowly", I decided to make my slices fairly thin. This incidentally ends up giving you slices of a nice size to pick up and eat, with whatever utensil you might be using to do so.

The slices are cooked in a "broth" of water, salt, oil, pepper, and saffron. I was only cooking one bulb, but decided that as the bulb was to be served in its liquid, it would be best not to have an excess of cooking liquid, so put in just enough water to barely cover the slices. To this I added about 1/2 a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, a small pinch of saffron, and a very liberal tablespoonful of olive oil - after all, it's an Italian recipe, and if there's one thing that 16th century Italian cooks like, it's fat. I brought it to a boil, and kept it boiling for about 15 minutes until the slices were tender when I pricked them with a knife.

I made up a quarter quantity of Scappi's garlic sauce recipe (II.257), but used a whole small raw garlic clove with the other ingredients in quarter quantities, and used corn flour instead of breadcrumbs as there is a very nice young lady who is a gluten-free vegetarian that I would like to be able to feed at feasts. I would normally substitute rice flour, but had none on hand. I also wouldn't normally be able to substitute flour for breadcrumbs in a sauce like this because as a sauce it just doesn't work - however, since this was being added to a cooked mixture, it worked okay - although I think the breadcrumbs would give a better overall texture.

Herb-wise, I added a mixture of rosemary, thyme, mint, sage, and parsley - working with what was on hand in the garden, that would have been appropriate to a 16th century Italian winter dish.

I found the kohlrabi texture unusual - sort of like eating the cooked stalk of a broccoli plant, but a little firmer. I think the thicker slices could have used slightly more cooking time. Otherwise, the dish was perfectly palatable but nothing special. I reheated it and presented it for further taste testing by friends, without telling them my impressions of it. Most were interested to try it based on my description of what a kohlrabi is. The most-polite amongst them struggled to find a polite way to express it, while the rest came up with a number of adjectives, including "bland", "unexciting", "non-threatening", "boring", "inoffensive", and "acceptable". The ingredients (aside from the kohlrabi) are very similar to many of Scappi's other vegetable-based dishes, and in fact reminded me a lot of his recipe for stuffed cabbage and lettuce (III.240).

I think it's something that would be worth serving to diners once, simply for the novelty value. After all, when you say "kohlrabi", most people will react by saying "what's that?" - and then become interested in trying it when you explain that it's related to cabbage but looks like a turnip. But with the adjectives above and many other similar ones, it's just not a dish that inspires you to go back for more - especially if there are other, tastier things to eat. Making it again, I'd be tempted to cook it in a vege broth with butter, and serve it with a bit of grated cheese, and maybe some sugar, sprinkled over the top - all adaptations that are entirely appropriate to a 16th century Italian dish.