Saturday, April 13, 2013


Cabbage--spring clearance.

Spring clearance! All stock must go. That was the gist of the promotion at the grocery store recently, where heaps of cabbages were going at bargain-basement prices. That’s a fine way to close out on winter.

Cabbage occupies an important place in Spanish cooking, as an ingredient, along with chicken, beef, ham bone, sausages, chickpeas, carrots and potatoes, in cocido, a meal-in-a-pot. It also goes into sturdy potajes, usually with beans and sausages. In Mallorca, cabbage is the principal vegetable in sopa seca, “dry soup,” that contains enough bread to soak up all the soup. Cabbage also is braised with partridge in an old-fashioned rural dish. In Catalonia, cabbage is served, hot or cold, with romesco—a terrific dressing for any kind of vegetable.

How had the whole winter gone by without my ever making my favorite stuffed cabbage? The perfect way to welcome spring and use my cut-rate cabbage.

While defrosting the freezer, in my own spring clearance, I found the tag-end of last year’s frozen tomatoes and a pot of ham stock, made from the bones of the Christmas ibérico ham. Both went into the stuffed cabbage dish.

Cabbage leaves are layered with meat stuffing.

My favorite way to prepare stuffed cabbage is to remove all the leaves from the cabbage, spread them with stuffing, then reconstruct the head of cabbage by layering the leaves and wrapping them into a ball.

Col Rellena
Stuffed Cabbage

While ground pork is usual for this stuffing, it could be made with lamb, beef or chicken instead. The same mixture can be used for stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini or stuffed onions.

Serves 4 to 6.

For the meat stuffing
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 pound ground pork
1 ounce chopped serrano ham or pancetta
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt (½ to 1 teaspoon)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¼ teaspoon pimentón (paprika) sweet or hot
2 tablespoons white wine

Combine the bread crumbs and eggs in a bowl. Add the ground meat, chopped ham, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, pimentón and wine. Mix the meat thoroughly.

After boiling, leaves are loosened.
For the cabbage
1 medium cabbage
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tomatoes, peeled and quartered (or canned)
1 bay leaf
½ cup white wine
4 cups stock or water
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. To remove the leaves from the cabbage, first discard any loose leaves from the cabbage and slice off the stem. Use a knife to cut deeply all around the core. Place the whole cabbage, stem side down, in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Very carefully turn the cabbage, stem side up. Cook another 3 minutes.

Remove the cabbage to a colander and allow to drain until cool enough to handle. Carefully loosen each leaf and release it from the head. Drain the leaves in a colander.

Layer cabbage leaves with meat stuffing.
 Spread a clean, dampened kitchen towel or square of muslin on a work surface. Use kitchen scissors to cut out hard stem ends of cabbage leaves. Arrange a layer of darker colored outer leaves on the towel. Spread each leaf with a spoonful of the meat stuffing. Add another layer of leaves, spreading them with meat. Continue layering the cabbage leaves and meat, keeping the pile as circular as possible.

When all the leaves and stuffing are used, gather up the four corners of the towel and twist to make a compact ball. Tie the towel tightly with kitchen twine.

In a pot large enough to hold the wrapped cabbage, heat the oil. Sauté the carrots, onion and garlic until softened, 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, wine, stock, salt and pepper. Carefully lower the cabbage into the stock.

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, 40 minutes. Very carefully turn the wrapped cabbage over. Cook 30 minutes more.

After cooking, unwrap cabbage.
Lift the cabbage out of the pot into a colander. Untie the towel and unwrap the cabbage. Invert it onto a serving bowl.

Slice the cabbage into wedges and serve with the carrots and liquid from the pot. Or, if desired, thicken the liquid with some flour to make a gravy.

Cut whole cabbage into wedges and serve with the vegetables from the pot.

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