Monday, December 18, 2006

Stuffed cabbage

Stuffed cabbage is the kind of "simple French food" that involves painstaking work. You make your stuffing; you carefully detach leaves from a head of cabbage; you blanch them; you assemble little parcels of leaves and stuffing. The recipe suggestion in my vegetable box last week dispensed with all that stuffing nonsense. You slice the cabbage, and steam or boil if for five minutes; you layer it with sausage meat; you put it in the oven. That's it. It might be simpler still: why bother with the initial cooking of the cabbage when it's going to steam in the oven for an hour and a half?

I like an easy life; but even I think that it may be worth putting in a bit more work than that. This is what I made (for four) yesterday.

250 g pork mince
250 g beef mince
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
Large handful parsley, chopped
1 cabbage
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

As I have written, the easiest way to brown mince is to form it into hamburger-like patties. Make about eight patties with the pork and beef; put a frying pan over a medium-to-high heat; when the pan is hot, pour in a layer of oil. Fry the patties in two or three batches -- if you crowd the pan you will lower the temperature, with the result that water escaping from the meat will not evaporate and the meat will not brown. You want to give it no more than a minute on each side. Put the browned mince into a bowl.

In another pan, soften the onion and garlic in some more olive oil until golden -- about 15 minutes. Tip them into the mince, along with the parsley, salt, and a lot of pepper. (You might like a little nutmeg, too.) Mix it all up, with your hands if you like.

Halve the cabbage vertically, then slice horizontally. You do not have to get rid of the core, which will soften with slow cooking. Wash and refresh the cabbage slices for a minute or two in a bowl of cold water.

Put a layer of cabbage in a casserole or other oven dish. Add a layer of meat, some more cabbage, some more meat, and some more cabbage. Cover, and bake gently in a gas mark 1/140 C oven for three hours.

Cabbage is delicious if cooked for five minutes, or if cooked for an hour and a half or longer. Cook it for 20 minutes, and it will evoke the horrors of institutional dinners.

The cabbage at the top of the dish will brown. That doesn't matter. Make sure the oven heat is gentle, though. I turned down my oven to its lowest setting for the last hour.

The meat does not cohere, as the term "stuffing" would imply. So this is a stuffed cabbage in which the cabbage is not stuffed, and the stuffing is not stuffing. I recommend it, though.


harmonious1 said...

I agree with the easy method. You would like my Tex-Mex Cabbage. It is really tasty, but easy too. My kids used to lap it up, cabbage and all!
I have searched the web and never found a recipe like it. I can't remember where I got the idea, but I think I adapted something I found in a magazine about 25 years ago.

pablopatito said...

I made this last night, based on a recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis that she says she has been making for 20 years. She wrote you should drain in cold water after blanching the cabbage to stop it cooking (why?), and you should cover the dish with a layer of greaseproof paper as well as the lid (why?). She also recommends taking the meat from sausages, rather than just minced pork.

I also added ham stock and thinly sliced potatoes, because I had these in and they needed using up. I thought the addition of potatoes work really well.

I cooked it for exactly two hours. It didn't brown but tasted quite nice. The main problem I had was that it smelled of stewed cabbage which I found really unpleasant.

Nicholas Clee said...

Why you should arrest the cooking when you are going to stew the cabbage for a further two hours is a mystery to me, too.

I imagine that the paper is meant to trap steam, so that the top of the cabbage does not dry out and brown. It is not always effective, in my experience.

Sorry about the smell. I usually find that it is tempered by long, slow cooking.