I came home from Cleveland after Christmas replete with holiday goodies, and feeling as if (ha) I might never again be very hungry. I know from experience that this sort of bloat can vanish suddenly, and leave a person rummaging for crusts, but it hasn't happened so far. This is a good thing, because there was just not much food in the house, and I haven't been in the mood for hauling a lot of groceries on the bus.
I'm happy to wait to shop until my kind friend with car returns from out of town. But there are some mouths to feed in the coming week, and a long weekend to cook ahead in. I found a great big savoy cabbage, some onions, and garlic- pretty much the only fresh produce in the house, since I dutifully used up my perishables before leaving for Christmas. The usual pantry things I hoard compulsively are also around, so I had me a mental browse around the various and splendid cabbage options.
God, I love cabbage. As you can see, I decided to make stuffed cabbage rolls- I did a vegetarian version, because of the food preferences of certain expected guests. I assure you that it does not look so lurid in person, I don't know what the story is with the reds here. My decision was not without pause to consider the other possibilities-a raised cabbage pie , Digger's cabbage soup , minestrone, and the like- including Paula Wolfert's semi-insane and totally delicious "Green chicken".
I also thought about trying two cabbage dishes I've not made yet. These were both my mother's special party dishes. She invented her own versions, and they were outstanding. Thus, there are no written recipes, and she doesn't remember how she made them. I plan to figure both out someday, but this was not the day.
One of her creations was a whole stuffed cabbage, with the meat based filling distributed between the leaves, which were gently prised open, after parboiling, without being detached from the core. The whole thing was gathered up in a bag of cheesecloth, to form a larger, slightly opened ball- rather like a blowsy, old-fashioned rose- and poached in a seasoned broth. She cut it in wedges to serve with a tomato and mushroom sauce. Impressive, delicious, and every bit as wacky as P.Wolfert's Poulet Vert. Her other cabbage opus was a strudel, made using purchased filo leaves. The cabbage filling had a sour cream and mushroom component, and it was a very good, and rich treat, usually served as a starter. Someday.
I have probably mentioned before that I don't buy cabbage much in the summer. I get beautiful cabbages in my CSA farmbox, so crisp and sweet that I realize that the average grocery store cabbage must be pretty old. They keep so well, and I guess the stores take advantage, and keep them forever. Probably the only way to get a fresh cabbage is to buy it from a farmer, or grow it yourself. I mostly use those crisp summer cabbages for slaws, and wait until now, when the fresh local veg are no more, to enjoy the many uses of the ordinary supermarket cabbage. Though a little aged, it is not to be sneezed at. This warm season forbearance gives me a feeling for a winter "season" of vegs-including, also e.g. the long storing winter squashes, and plenty of dried beans.
I decided on the cabbage rolls so I could make a lot, and divide them between the two dinners I'm making. You can use any filling you like, of course, but I do think onions, garlic, herbs and mushrooms are especially good in it. You can substitute other grains- barley or quinoa or the like, and your herbs of choice. Personally though, I love tarragon with cabbage. and it is nice to include the tiny, unstuffable cabbage leaves in the stuffing mix as well. This is how I made them, to serve a total of seven people:
I made a couple of cups of basmati rice, while bringing my pasta pot full of water to a boil, and soaking a large handful of dried shitake slices in some very hot tap wayer, to cover. When the water came to a boil, I cut the core out of my very large savoy cabbage, and lowered it into the pasta pot in the strainer. After a couple of minutes, I pulled the cabbage out, and carefully removed as many of the outer leaves as I could, without tearing them. I kept putting the cabbage back into the boiling water until I was able to remove as many leaves as I could, until I got down to the really small center ones. I put all the whole leaves, stacked, back into the strainer, and gave them a few minutes more in the boiling water, for softening, then drained them all, and rinsed them in cold water to stop them cooking.
I sauteed a chopped onion, a handful of pine nuts, the drained mushrooms ( saving the water), chopped, some lovely fresh wild mushrooms I picked up on the way home from work (nice and light, parcel-wise), garlic, a pinch of aleppo pepper, and the middle of the cabbage, minced, until everything was browned nicely, and then stirred in the rice, salt, pepper, and tarragon. While that was cooling down, I cut a little v-shape out of each cabbage leaf, from the hard center rib, to make them easier to stuff and roll.
To stuff a cabbage leaf, you set it on a surface, so that the inside is like a cup, facing you. Spoon a bit of filling in, near the bottom of the leaf, where the cup is deepest, and fold the bottom bit up over the filling. fold the sides in, and roll the leaf up to form the roll- like a burrito. As I do each one, I set it in a baking dish, seam side down, so it won't have a chance to come apart. If I have filling left over, I scoop it into a separate little baking dish, pour some sauce over, and bake it along side.
If I am making a brisket or something else meaty to serve with the stuffed cabbage, some of the meat gravy will be mixed into the baking sauce. Today I just blended a quart jar of home canned tomatoes, a cup of homemade broth, and the mushroom soaking liquid, and some salt and pepper, and poured it all over. I baked my tray of stuffed cabbage rolls for an hour at 350F, covered at first, then uncovered, and will probably bake it again for nearly as long the day I serve it, keeping an eye on, and adding liquid as needed.
These keep well, freeze well, may be improvised upon with impunity, and make me feel as if I might still have a grandmother. I do like my cabbage.