After spending some quality time breaking down, cleaning, and cooking a head of cabbage for this recipe, I realized how little I actually know about brassica oleracia (that’s cabbage to you). The countless servings of coleslaw I’ve consumed are the base of my understanding, and I certainly noticed the veggie’s presence in the Dutch staple stamppot (mashed potatoes mixed with steamed cabbage and sausage) when I studied abroad, but still I felt there must be something I could learn about these vegetal orbs. There was.
Folks, it’s time for a little round of Cabbage Trivia!
-“Cabbage” is a derivative of the word “caboche,” an old French word meaning “head”
-Dutch sailors fermented cabbage (creating sauerkraut) and ate it on long voyages to prevent scurvy
-The most common varieties include red, white and savoy — broccoli and brussels are closely related
-China is the world’s leading producer of cabbage
-The world record for heaviest cabbage is 138 pounds! Just take a look at that baby!
-Remember Cabbage Patch dolls? Well, it turns out the cabbage patch is where all the doll kids were “born,” just a small part in an entire made up Cabbage Patch Universe. Watch out for the evil Lavender McDade and Cabbage Jack!
-Italian-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are healthy, require relatively few ingredients, and an all-around satisfying way use that head. Don’t get jealous; get cooking.
Italian Cabbage Rolls
Adapted from the revered Smitten Kitchen
Makes ~12 medium rolls
1 white or savoy cabbage
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup whole milk
4 plain pork sausages, casings removed
1 small sprig of sage, finely chopped
1 small sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Discard any messy or broken outer cabbage leaves and carefully peel 12 nice, large leaves. Blanch leaves for about 30 seconds to 1 minute (you can do a few at a time), until wilted, and spread out on towels so that they dry and cool. Place bread scraps in bottom of large bowl and pour milk over. Let sit for a few minutes, then mash it gently with a spoon until something close to a paste forms. Mix with sausage meat, herbs, parmesan and a pinch or two of salt and black pepper; I find this easiest with a fork or bare hands. Lay your first cabbage leaf on the counter. If it doesn’t want to lay flat, pare away some of the thickest stalk (with a paring knife or vegetable peeler) to make it easier. Form some of the filling mixture into a golf ball-sized round. Wrap cabbage leaf around it and pin at the top with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining leaves and mixture. To prepare your tomatoes, either break them up with your hands (for bigger chunks), run them through a food mill or roughly chop them right in their can with scissors. In a heavy saute pan with a lid or a medium (5 to 6-quart) Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds then add the tomatoes, bringing the sauce to a gentle boil. Season with salt if needed. Add cabbage packages, arranging them carefully in the pan so they all fit, cover the pot and gently simmer them for 25 minutes. Remove the toothpicks and carefully turn the rolls over, cooking them for another 25. Remove the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes to cook off some of the wetness. They’re all cooked now, but if you can rest them for another 15 minutes before eating them, the flavors settle and they become even better. Dig in!
What’s your favorite way to use cabbage?