This originated from an Italian recipe which used fontina and chicken stock; we have created this British and vegetarian version, but I'm sure the Italians would still love it. If you don't have any stale bread, just leave some slices hanging around the kitchen for a few hours before you start cooking, or when you leave for work in the morning.
The drier the bread the better, as it soaks up the juices. We used to make a version of this at our original York restaurant and people would call before arriving to make sure it was still on the menu.
Fill a large saucepan with cold water and 2 tbsp of salt and bring to the boil. Have a large bowl of cold water ready.
Remove any bruised or rough-looking outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut the cabbage in half, making sure you go through the core, then cut into quarters. Remove the core and separate the leaves. Wash well, as Savoy has lots of hiding places for soil and dirt.
Plunge the cabbage leaves into the boiling water in small batches and cook for 5 or 6 minutes, or until tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cabbage from the water (reserve the cooking water) and add to a bowl of cold water to prevent overcooking; this will also help to keep the colour. Drain.
Pour 100ml of the hot cabbage cooking water into a large mixing bowl (pour away the rest), add the butter and allow to melt. Add the bread to the bowl and mix to allow the liquid to absorb.
Take four 150ml microwaveable pudding dishes and line each with one large dark green cabbage leaf and one lighter green leaf. This will look nice when it is turned out. Add a few pieces of bread, season with salt and pepper, then add some grated cheese. Press down firmly and repeat the process: cabbage, bread, seasoning and cheese. Don't forget to press down.
Cover and refrigerate until needed. Simmer the ale with the sugar until it has reduced to about half its original volume. Season with salt.
To serve, place a lid loosely on a pudding basin and microwave on medium (800W) for 1 minute, then remove and carefully turn upside down, being careful of your hands, to allow all the liquids to circulate. Turn the right way up again and heat for a further 1 1/2 minutes or until piping hot. Repeat to cook all four puddings. (If you haven't got a microwave, place the basins in a steamer and cook for 15 minutes.)
Remove the lids and carefully invert on to plates. Add a little of the ale reduction and serve simply with a few boiled potatoes, or turn it into something more substantial with some roasted root vegetables.