Farmers market season is back! Sadly, I missed the opening day, but it was for a good cause—I had a cooking class on potato gnocchi to teach. But let's just say nothing was going to keep me from the market a second weekend in a row. I dragged my husband out of bed early, in fact. After a long grey winter, strolling through the colorful displays of lush produce inspired me anew. Greens and root vegetables are the main offerings this early in the season. Tuscan kale, curly kale, rainbow chard, Savoy cabbage, leeks, celeriac, yellow potatoes, and eggs looked good, so I stocked up.
I had no thought as to what I would make with these ingredients, but I knew it would be good…
And it was. With the cabbage I made Russian cabbage rolls, a family recipe. Delicious.
1 large head green or Savoy cabbage
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onion, julienned, plus ½ onion, grated
1 ½ pounds 85% lean ground beef
¼ cup long grain rice
¼ cup minced Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ¾ cups strained tomatoes, preferably Pomì brand
1 green or red bell pepper, julienned
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
Using a paring knife, cut the core out of the cabbage. Cook the cabbage in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 6 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process, reserving the cooking liquid, and then drain the cabbage thoroughly.
Heat a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add the oil and the julienned onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 45 to 50 minutes, or until caramelized.*
Meanwhile, mix together the grated onion, ground beef, rice, 3 tablespoons of the parsley, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Carefully remove the outermost leaf of the cabbage and place it cupped side up on a work surface. Place about ¼ cup of the beef mixture toward the base of the cabbage leaf. Fold the base of the cabbage leaf over the beef mixture, tuck in either side, and roll all the way up. Make more cabbage rolls with the remaining cabbage leaves and filling in the same manner, using 2 overlapped cabbage leaves per roll as the leaves become smaller. As you work, arrange the cabbage rolls seam side down on a plate. Separate any remaining leaves from the heart of the cabbage.
Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, and cayenne to the pot. Line the pot with the remaining cabbage leaves and add the cabbage rolls seam side down. Add enough of the reserved cabbage cooking liquid to cover by an inch. Place a small upturned plate over the cabbage rolls, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley and simmer, covered, for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cabbage rolls are cooked through. Remove the plate, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.
Serves 4. Serve with crusty bread. My mom always used green cabbage, but the Savoy cabbage at the market looked too good to pass up. Basmati rice is good in this recipe. The plate will keep the cabbage rolls completely submerged beneath the cooking liquid so that they cook evenly, and it will also keep them from unrolling as they simmer.
*For information on making and using caramelized onions and everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores now.