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Italian Stuffed Cabbage
(Makes 12-15 cabbage rolls)
Our recipe for Italian stuffed cabbage has a veal, Italian sausage, spinach, and rice filling. The filling may also be made with ground beef, pork, lamb, or a combination of meats. Variations of stuffed cabbage are made throughout Europe and the Middle East. Some recipes include rice, others have breadcrumbs, farro, dried peas, or lentils; some have a lot of chopped vegetables or no vegetables at all. But 2 things are certain, stuffed cabbage is a true comfort food and most people will claim that their grandma’s recipe is the best.
Making stuffed cabbage takes some time as there are a number of steps involved. The cabbage rolls may be prepared a few hours ahead and kept refrigerated before baking. Baked stuffed cabbage also freezes well.
Filling: 3 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 2 garlic cloves, minced 5 ounces fresh spinach leaves, chopped Freshly grated nutmeg Salt and pepper 1 pound ground veal 8 ounces Italian sausage, removed from casings 1 cup cooked rice (about 1/2 cup before cooking) 1 egg 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Additional Parmesan cheese for serving. Olive oil for drizzling (optional)
Directions: To remove the leaves from the head of cabbage: Bring a large pot (large enough to fit the whole cabbage) of water to a boil. Using a small, sharp knife, cut in a circle all around the core of the cabbage and remove it. Place the cabbage in the boiling water. After about 2 minutes, an outside leaf will start to come loose. Use tongs or 2 forks to pull it off and transfer it to a bowl. After another minute or so, the next leaf will come loose. Remove and repeat until you have 12-15 leaves. Allow the leaves to dry and cool. Use a small knife to trim the large vein on each leaf to remove some of the vein’s thickness.
To make the filling: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion; sauté for 3-4 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic; sauté for 1 minute. Add the spinach and sauté until completely wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Season the mixture with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside to cool about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the veal, sausage, rice, and spinach mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon or your hands to blend the ingredients well. Add the egg and Parmesan cheese; stir to combine. To assemble and bake the cabbage rolls: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread half of the tomato sauce in a baking dish (about 10 x 13-inches).
Put one of the cabbage leaves on a work surface with the bottom of the leaf closest to you. Place about 1/4 cup of the filling in an elongated mound at the base of the leaf. Roll the bottom of the leaf up and over the filling. Fold in the left and right sides of the leaf. Continue rolling the enclosed filling up to the top of the leaf. Place the cabbage roll, seam side down, into the prepared baking dish. Continue filling and rolling the remaining cabbage leaves. The cabbage rolls should fit snugly in the baking dish. Spread the remaining tomato sauce over the top of the cabbage rolls. Cover the baking dish and bake for 1 hour.
To serve: Place 2 cabbage rolls with a little of the sauce on individual plates. Sprinkle the top with grated Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with a little olive oil, if desired.
Sauteing onions until soft, 5 to 10 minutes, is the first step in many recipes. The reason is that softened onions add body and sweetness. Browning onions, 10 to 15 minutes, gives the onions a deeper flavor that makes them great with sauteed greens or in a savory tart. Lowering the heat and cooking the onions for 30 minutes or more will caramelize them. Longer cooking brings out the onion's sweet side. Caramelized onions are nice on pizza or in pasta.
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