“Sancrau”, the assonance with “sauerkraut” is clear and this is indeed a cabbage dish: Savoy cabbage cooked with garlic, anchovies and vinegar.
I have not been able to ascertain whether this is the Italian version of sauerkraut (as some sources claim) or if the name is just a coincidence – however, a savoury, robust dish this is for sure. My Piedmontese friends tell me it is THE typical, homely contorno to cotechino in their native Piemonte, even if online sources claim it is from Liguria: both could well be right because Piemonte and Liguria share a border. Oddly enough, I have not found any reference to it in any of my books.
The vinegary, garlicky, slightly fishy taste of sancrau goes well with roasted or boiled meat but also with a parmesan and butter mash, with unadorned polenta or with plain, steamed potatoes. The chopped up leftovers can go into a frittata, a very satisfying one. Occasionally, I have also added a handful of sultanas at the beginning or some un-toasted pinenuts at the end. I have also seen a version (where no source is mentioned though) where crumbled amaretti biscuits are sprinkled on top: I have not tried it, but I like the sound of it.
The use of anchovies is traditional but my fifty-something Piedmontese friend told me that his mum never used them: as usual, one recipe, endless variations. Sancrau is a North Italian, winter dish and I feel butter makes the best and most appropriate cooking fat.
This is how I prepare sancrau:
Thinly slice one Savoy cabbage (1 kg, approximately). Wash, drain and spin/pat it dry. Sweat one sliced onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, finely chopped, in a generous knob of butter – a wide terracotta/earthenware pot would be ideal for this. The heat is low, the casserole is covered and the vegetables must barely colour. When the onion is really tender, add 4-6 fillets of anchovies preserved in oil and let them melt gently.
Add the cabbage, raise the heat and toss it well in this fishy-garlicky butter. After a few minutes, lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes. Now add a tumbler of white wine vinegar, about 100 ml. Let it bubble away a little, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. By the end the cabbage should be fairly dry.
I think it is better after it has rested a little, reheating it when needed.