When the weather outside is frightful, schools declare a snow day and we hunker down inside to wait out the storm. For some this might mean marathon watching of your favorite series, but for me, hanging in the warm kitchen with the goal of finding new ways to spread the love, is how I find shelter from the storm. This week was no exception. As the snow fell and wind howled, I was busy trying to figure out what to do with the gorgeous head of savoy cabbage that caught my eye in the market the day before. The mellow-flavored savoy cabbage is considered by many to be one of the best of its genre for cooking. If you are not familiar, savoy has a loose, full head of curly leaves varying in color from dark to pale green. In addition to its milder flavor, it is also more tender than its common cousin, making it a good choice for this preparation. It is best to choose a head that is heavy for it size. The leaves should be crisp, not limp, and without signs of browning. It can be stored, tightly wrapped, in a plastic bag, refrigerated, for up to a week. Certainly, if you cannot find it, people have been stuffing regular cabbage for thousands of years, but given a choice, I am always inspired by the taste and appearance of the crinkled leaves.
A cabbage roll is a dish consisting of cooked cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings. Ethnically, they are common in the cuisines of the Balkans, Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as, West Asia. Meat fillings, often accompanied by rice and/or other grains, are traditional in Europe. In Asia, seafood, tofu, and mushrooms are often seen wrapped in Napa or Chinese cabbage. Sauces vary greatly as well. I have most often seen them served with a tomato based sauce but in Sweden they are served with lingonberry jam resulting in a sweet and tart finish. Plain sour cream, yogurt and a lemon based vinaigrette are seen as dressings or sauces in Lebanon.
The direction I took for this recipe was more traditional with a topping of my homemade marinara sauce giving an Italian twist. Again, think of this as a blank canvas just waiting for the personal touches that make it your masterpiece. I chose ground turkey for the filling because it makes it a bit lighter with less fat than say, beef and/or pork.
Here is how it went down in my kitchen.
ITALIANO STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS (Cavolo Ripieno)
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
1 large head savoy cabbage
1 lb. Ground turkey
½ c fresh breadcrumbs
½ c fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, divided
1t dried sage or 10 leaves of fresh, finely chopped
½ small yellow or red onion, finely chopped
2 large eggs
½ t sea salt or more to taste
½ t freshly ground black pepper
2c your favorite tomato sauce
¼ – ½ c dry white wine, depending on thickness of sauce
½ c toasted fresh bread crumbs
¼ c fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, (optional)
- Prepare cabbage by removing any tough or damaged outer leaves. Completely core the cabbage. Meanwhile, bring six quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add 2T of sea salt and stir. Carefully remove 14 whole leaves. Plunge them carefully in the boiling water and cook until soft and pliable, about 4-5 minutes. Remove leaves with tongs into a colander. Rinse under cold water and lay out on clean cotton towel to dry.
Or Ina Garten’s method: Remove the entire core of the cabbage with a paring knife. Immerse the head of cabbage in the boiling water for a few minutes, peeling off each leaf with tongs as soon as it’s flexible. Set the leaves aside. Depending on the size of each leaf, you will need at least 14 leaves.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the turkey, breadcrumbs, ¼ c of the parsley. Sage, onion, eggs, salt and pepper. Using a fork lightly incorporate all the ingredients. Make a small test patty and fry it up. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
- Lay out 12 (two are for back-up in case one tears) of the cabbage leaves on a board or baking sheet. Using a large scoop or spoon, place a mound of the meat mixture on each leaf. Amount of filling may vary depending on the size of the leaf.
- Fold burrito style, ends folded and then one side and roll to make a neat little package or roll. Put half of the sauce on the bottom of the baking pan and add the wine. Mix together. Line up your cabbage rolls side by side, seam side down.
- Pour remaining sauce over the top. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour.
- While it is baking, heat ½ T each of extra virgin olive oil and unsalted butter in a small skillet. When it begins to bubble, add the remaining ½ c bread crumbs and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until golden. Remove crumbs to a plate.
- To serve, sprinkle the top with the toasted crumbs, remaining (1/4 c) parsley and mint, if using. These add great texture, so be sure to do it.
Note: Can be assembled several hours ahead and baked right before serving. If using regular green cabbage, you should remove the tough bottom ribs. Some may find it necessary for the Savoy as well, but I found them to be tender enough to be left in.
Whether it was the storm outside or the amazing aromas wafting through my house, this snow day was quite cozy. We are blessed to have a warm home and access to good quality food, and this day, I was reminded. I can’t think of anything better than creating good food and feeding those I hold dear. We don’t know what the weather will bring next but bring it on, I will be in my kitchen. Please stay safe and warm wherever you may be and keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. I guarantee it will keep you cozy.
Before I go, I want to pass on a little tip I learned recently. Did you know you could freeze avocados? Who knew? I saw it demonstrated by a TV chef. Simply cut the avocado in half and remove the seed. Using a spoon, scoop out the half in one piece, if possible. Place in a zip lock freezer bag, place in freezer and there you have it. Ripe avocado at your fingertips.
Until next time, I send love and warmth from my kitchen to yours. Jeanne