Stuffed cabbage with an Italian inflection

Mario Batali

Cruciferous is a designation that comprises the Brassica members of the cabbage family, including cavolo nero, mustard and turnip greens, along with cauliflower and collards, plus radishes, horseradish and arugula. The name derives from the flower common to these plants, the four petals of which spread to form a cross. Hence, “crucifer”-ous.
In addition to their pungently delicious properties, cancer researchers have found that high consumption of cruciferous vegetables may be effective in the prevention of certain types of cancer. A serving of cruciferous vegetables gives every meal a healthy dose of vitamin C.
One potential downside: cooking cruciferous vegetables, cabbage included, can tend to get a little malodorous or even stinky in the gassy way.
The trick is to do the initial blanch when the kids are at school or your roommates are at work – or, like I do, late at night when everyone is asleep with the windows wide open.
The dirty work done, I can finish the process and final cooking when they get home.
In general, you don’t have to sneak vegetables into your family’s diets, you just have to change the way they look and the way they feel. This dish looks like a stuffed lasagne.
Start by forming a nice paste, or composto (i.e. a vegetarian stuffing), then use the blanched leafy greens and roll it like a burrito.
Stuffed cabbage may sound like a dish your grandmother imported from the old country. But really it just needs a facelift, or, better yet, an Italian inflection.
In the region of Liguria, on the northwest coast near the border of France, they prepare stuffed cabbage with a vegetarian stuffing, like in this recipe, and serve it as either an antipasto or a light main course.
When cooking, cruciferous vegetables are often interchangeable. If green cabbage isn’t available, substitute another cabbage like savoy or another fibrous leafy green like cavolo nero or turnip tops.
Make more than you think you will need; this dish is a guaranteed hit and is just as good the next day cool from the fridge as a sneaky, luxurious lunch.

Makes 12 rolls; serves 8 to 10 as a side dish or as an antipasto.
– 1 large green cabbage (3 to 4 pounds)
– Salt
– 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 2 medium red onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
– 1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 1 cup fresh ricotta, drained
– About 1 cup finely slivered fresh basil leaves
– 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
– 2 cups basic tomato sauce
– 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Fill a large bowl with cool water, and place it nearby.
Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage, finely chop them, and set them aside. Carefully cut out the cabbage core with a sharp knife.
Add 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water. Drop the whole cabbage into the water and cook until it is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Then transfer the cabbage to the bowl of cool water and let it cool.
When the cabbage is cool enough to handle, drain it. Carefully remove the whole leaves from the head, and set aside about a dozen of the best and largest. Chop the remaining cabbage into 1/4-inch pieces and set them aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add the onions, garlic, potatoes, and the raw and cooked chopped cabbage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and allow to cool.
When the potato mixture is cool, add the ricotta, basil and parsley, and fold together. Place a scant 1/2 cup of the cabbage/ricotta mixture in the center of each whole cabbage leaf. Fold each leaf around the filling like a burrito, and secure it with a toothpick.
Pour the tomato sauce into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, and arrange the cabbage packets on top. Cover the dish tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil, sprinkle the cabbage packets with the grated pecorino, and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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