Stuffed Cabbage (Involtini di Verza)

Stuffed savoy cabbage or involtini di verza are quite a ‘homey’ dish, but they are so tasty and nice looking to boot that I dare to serve them at a dinner party. There is no single recipe for them — as with many Italian dishes there are as many variations as there are families. The general idea is that a large leaf of green curly savoy cabbage is parboiled, stuffed and then baked. I stuffed my version with the tender inner cabbage, minced beef and pork, mortadella, fennel seeds, and parmigiano and they were absolutely wonderful. The mortadella is important as it adds a lot of flavor, but if you use too much it will overpower the rest. I’m not usually big on cabbage, so I was surprised how delicious these turned out to be.

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A single involtino can be served as an antipasto, two or three of them are enough for a secondo. Here’s my version…

Ingredients

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For 9 servings as antipasto or 3-4 servings as secondo

1 head savoy cabbage

200 grams (.44 lb) ground pork

200 grams (.44 lb) ground beef

100 grams (3.5 oz) mortadella, minced

1 tsp fennel seeds

60 grams (2 oz or 6 Tbsp) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano

1 minced carrot (about 80 grams or 1/2 cup)

1 minced small onion (about 80 grams or 1/2 cup)

1-2 minced celery stalks (about 80 grams or 1/2 cup)

125 ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine

2 eggs, beaten

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 Tbsp olive oil

25 grams (2 Tbsp) butter

1 tsp baking powder

Preparation

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Carefully detach 9 nice looking outer leaves and leave them whole. Remove the tough center from the remaining inner part; this is easiest when you cut it into quarters first. Take 250 grams (.55 lb) of the inner cabbage and shred it. Save the remaining inner cabbage for another use.

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Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onion, celery, and carrot, and sauté over medium low heat until golden, about 10 minutes.

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Add the ground meat. Increase the heat and brown the meat, using two wooden spatulas to break it apart.

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Continue to brown the meat until it starts to ‘sizzle’ and a brown layer on the bottom of the pan has formed. Take care not to burn this layer. Add the fennel seeds and sauté them briefly with the meat.

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Deglaze the pan with the white wine.

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Use a wooden spatula to scrape the brown layer off the bottom of the pan. This is a lot of flavor you want to include in the dish.

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Add the shredded inner cabbage.

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Add the mortadella. Stir to mix.

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Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring now and then, for about 20 minutes or until the cabbage is cooked.

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Meanwhile, in a large pot bring about 2 litres (2 quarts) of water to a boil to which you have added the baking powder. The baking powder makes the water alkaline and helps to maintain the bright green color of the cabbage. Parboil the cabbage leaves for 3-4 minutes or until tender but still firm to the bite. The outermost dark leaves need about 4 minutes, for the lighter colored leaves 3 minutes is enough. Parboil the leaves in about 3 batches.

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Plunge the parboiled leaves into cold water to stop the cooking.

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When the cabbage and meat mixture has finished cooking, remove the cover and allow to cool somewhat.

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Carefully cut off most of the thick central vein from the back of each of the parboiled leaves, being careful not to break them.

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Pat the leaves dry with a kitchen towel or kitchen paper, again being careful not to break them.

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Arrange the leaves on a work surface with the front side up.

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Add 50 grams of the parmigiano and the eggs to the meat and cabbage mixture. Make sure to do this only once the mixture has cooled below 60C/140F, as otherwise the eggs will cook prematurely.

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Stir to mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. (If you are worried about tasting with the raw egg in there, you could mix in the parmigiano, then adjust the seasoning, and add the eggs after that.)

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Preheat the oven to 200C/390F (without fan) or 180C/350F (with fan). Rub a 20 x 30 cm (8 x 12 inch) oven proof dish with olive oil.

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Divide the meat and cabbage mixture between the leaves.

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Take the first leave. Fold the two sides to the middle.

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Close the package by folding the lower and upper sides to the middle as well.

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Repeat with all the leaves and arrange the stuffed leaves in the oven dish.

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Sprinkle the stuffed leaves with the remaining parmigiano and dot with the butter.

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Bake for 20 minutes at 200C/390F (without fan) or 180C/350F (with fan).

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Allow your involtini di verza to rest for about 5 minutes.

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Serve on warm plates; one per person as an antipasto or two to three as a secondo.

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16 thoughts on “Stuffed Cabbage (Involtini di Verza)

  1. these sound really good! I think I was traumatized having to roll the cabbage when I was a kid, that I barely make the Romanian version of it. Maybe next time I will try baking them like you did so the rolling is not as crucial to keeping the meat inside 😉

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  2. You’re so right – cabbage cooked this way has a whole different taste. I like the idea of using savoy cabbage – I’ve always made stuffed cabbage using regular cabbage and the leaves can be brittle and difficult to remove. And – you just taught me something – I had no idea Italians made stuffed cabbage!

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  3. These do sound good, Stefan, and I’d have no problem serving them for dinner guests. In fact, I bet none ever had any as good. Mom prepared stuffed cabbage and I loved them. Unfortunately it’s one of the many recipes she never wrote down or was lost. I guess I’ll adopt yours. 😉

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  4. Your cabbage looks so incredibly green because you shocked it! I have never thought of stuffed cabbage in the way that you have prepared it – what a wonderful take on a classic dish! The parmesan and fennel sound very nice. Stuffed cabbage is a dish often eaten at Jewish holidays, except it is stuffed with beef, covered in a tomato sauce and does not have cheese. I am so intrigued by this beautiful recipe!

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    • Thanks, Shanna! It’s not just green because I shocked it, but also because I added baking powder to the cooking water. This trick works with all green veggies. If I remember correctly, a Jewish dish can’t have meat and cheese at the same time, right?

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      • Of course – the pleasure is all mine. Gorgeous recipe – classic yet innovative – you put your own spin on it. 🙂 Yes, you mentioned that the baking powder causes the water to alkaline and preserves the bright green color… that is such a great tip. I always learn something new about cooking and food science from your blog.

        Yes, you are correct. Those who follow the laws of kashrut (i.e. keep Kosher) do not mix milk with meat in a dish. The meals are either parve (vegetarian or pescatarian – no milk or meat), milchig (milk) or fleishig (meat). One may have milk products before a meat course, but not after. One also don’t eat any pork products. So, a lot of traditional Jewish recipes our “bubbes” pass down reflect kashrut guidelines.

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  5. Pingback: Turbot with Morels, Wild Mushrooms, and Celeriac Puree | Stefan's Gourmet Blog

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