There’s something about cooking in the fall and winter that I find comforting. The warmth sneaking out of the kitchen from a preheating oven, the pop and crackle of a roast in the crock pot, and the sweet aroma of bread rising and then baking in the bread machine. Cooking in winter is cathartic– a revolt against the slush and slick sidewalks, naked tree limbs, and gray skies. Though the winter sky sometimes opens up and blankets the land with peacefully white fluffy snow, the joy it brings is fleeting the moment footprints and shovels destroy the landscape and I’m forced to emerge from my cozy blanket to go to the post office or need something from the grocery store.
Last week fall was nowhere to be seen. Even though the weather had me feeling like spring, my kitchen and my pantry are stocked for fall, and so a fall meal is what I made. Cabbage has been on sale at all of the local grocers, and thanks to a recent trip to Costco, we have a few pounds of organic beef in the freezer. Everything else this recipe calls for is something I almost always have at home anyway. Mind you, making stuffed cabbage rolls is truly a labor of love, and shouldn’t be attempted when you’re suffering from extreme hunger or you are on a tight schedule. I always make a big batch and freeze some so that I make the most of my time.
Italian-Style Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Makes 10-12 rolls
1 lb organic lean ground beef
1 medium sweet yellow onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1.5-2 cups cooked brown rice
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 large head green cabbage
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
salt and pepper, to taste
Start cooking the brown rice before you begin cooking anything else as it takes about 40 minutes to cook completely. Cook according to package directions.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. You will need this to parboil the cabbage and remove the leaves, so use at least a 6-quart pot, two-thirds full of water.
Remove any bruised outer leaves from the cabbage. Using a paring knife, remove the core. Immerse the cabbage into boiling water to parboil the outer leaves. When they start to wilt and fall off of the cabbage head, remove to a bowl and allow to drain. Each leaf should take a minute or so to become translucent and fall off of the head. Once you’ve removed all of the cabbage, start removing the coarse rib that runs up the center of each leaf. You can do this either by cutting a V into the cabbage leaf, or my preferred method of shaving down the thickness of the rib with a paring knife until the center rib is the same thickness as the surrounding cabbage leaf. Separate the larger leaves from the smaller, thicker leaves. You should have 10-12 large leaves.
In a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef (you can substitute ground turkey or soy crumbles for the beef if you’d like). Add in the garlic and onions, and continue cooking over medium-high heat until the meat is cooked through. Add in the entire can of tomato paste and the cooked brown rice. Reduce heat to low, and stir the mixture together until the tomato paste is incorporated into the rice and the beef. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
Spoon a portion of the filling into the stem end of a cabbage leaf. Fold the leaf over and tuck in one of the sides, continuing rolling tightly like you are folding a burrito. Once you have the cabbage rolled, tuck the loose open end into the center of the roll with your index finger. It will look like an O shape. Once you have all of the larger rolls stuffed, prepare a large glass casserole dish by drizzling a small mount (1-2 tablespoons) tomato sauce onto the bottom of the dish, and then making a bed of the remaining smaller cabbage leaves on top of the sauce. Place the cabbage rolls on top of the bed of cabbage leaves.
Pour some of the tomato sauce over top each cabbage roll, making sure each one gets a good coating. Cover the pan with foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.
This was served with a slice of 100% Whole Wheat bread, a recipe from The Best Bread Machine Cookbook Ever (by Madge Rosenberg), which I picked up at the thrift store last week for only a dollar. The recipe calls for the addition of molasses and orange zest, which gives it a sweet, rich flavor.