Part and parcel

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Lets just say they can come in very useful those tough, dark, crimpled and otherwise discardable outer leaves. Blanch until supple, pat dry, chill and apply as necessary. Brassica in brassiere - very effective. I also lay a well- chilled leaf across my forehead the other day! Vegetal relief after an infuriating hour of miscommunication at the commune and a series of thwarted attempts to get things done. I’m also convinced my forehead looks a little less lined now. Next time my whole face But enough of such talk.

I was, I’m told, an unfussy child when it came to food. Extremely unfussy and pretty voracious by all accounts! The child that ate everything, even cabbage. Especially cabbage. Unswayed by the pertinacious odour when boiled – hilarious – unphased by the anguish and ridicule of my friends, undeterred even by the attempts of the school dinner ladies to boil the brassica to death, I really liked cabbage. Plain boiled with masses of best butter, salt and pepper was how we ate it at home: a tasty, good-natured, only slightly sulphurous companion to the sausages, mash topped pie or meaty braise. Cabbage was the fourth player in a colcannonesque quartet along with mash, butter and bacon. There was a significant Chou farci in France when I was 14. Cabbage even survived the all or nothing years, the obsessive and disordered ones, when in an attempt to quash all voracious appetites I avoided, eliminated or forsake almost everything. But not cabbage. There was no butter of course, which meant the cabbage wasn’t nearly as much fun, but there was cabbage nonetheless.

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Gillian Riley notes that cabbage, cavolo, Brassica oleraccea has been around for thousands of years and that many of the types we recognise today were known by the Ancient Romans. She also reminds us that the vast Brassica family – which like most vast families is divided into many groups – includes cauliflower and broccoli. Modern Romans, at least the ones I know, not least this 77cm one, are devoted to broccoli particularly their prized broccolo romanesco. Cabbage, be it the handsome savoy, the darker, stronger cavolo nero or the tight, round white cabbage is cooked less in Rome. But when it is cooked, it’s done so with Gusto.

In Volpetti they cook dark, leafy cabbage as they do many of their green vegetables: twice! First boiled until tender but still resistant and then ripassato (re-passed) in a saute pan with a fearless quantity of olive oil infused with garlic.. Twice as nice. They also cook white cabbage in the pan with olive oil, braising it really, letting it cook slowly in the vapours from its own escaping moisture. Sometimes they add cooked cannellini beans – starchy and comely – to this smothered cabbage which is good and something I often make at home for lunch. Volpetti also does a nice farro and bean soup that includes plenty of sliced white cabbage. I’ve eaten more cabbage in Toscana. Most notably the dark, sultry, Javier Bardem of Brassica: cavolo nero, much-loved and a fundamental part of Ribollita, a substantial bean and vegetable soup, re-boiled and then served over the saltless bread of the region. Minestrone too, greatly benefits from a hefty handful of sliced savoy or cavolo nero. And then there’s stuffed cabbage.

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Not in Rome though, I’ve never had stuffed cabbage in Rome. I’ve never had stuffed cabbage in Italy as it happens! Which makes sense, as apparently it’s not really typical to any region!  Feel free to put me right?  That said, I have several recipes of Italian origin I’ve bookmarked over the years: a savoy cabbage and sausage bake from the Silver spoon, a recipe torn from a magazine for involtini, an intriguing Northern Italian recipe for cabbage loaf, Giorgio Locatelli’s Mondeghini. And then of course there is my brother’s advice

On Thursday morning having re-read the majestic oak tree cake post, missing my brother (what a dame) and with a longing for something warm, tasty and – to put it bluntly – porky,  I gathered together the various threads, books and pages and came up with savoy cabbage leaves stuffed with sausage et all and cooked in tomato sauce.

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You need a savoy cabbage, look for one whose dark wrinkled leaves are firm and pert and whose paler head is unblemished and solid. Having removed the very dark, tough outer leaves – discard them, braise them for six hours, fashion them into a scarf or use them for something else – carefully pull away nine very nice leaves. It may help to cut them away from the base with a small sharp knife. Blanch the nine leaves briefly in well-salted boiling water, just long enough to render then supple and mailable. You also need pork sausages, best quality ones. I use Italian Luganega which is particularly good, lean and accommodating. Bread soaked in milk, parmesan, finely chopped rosemary and sage are mixed with the sausage meat to make the stuffing. Hands are best.

There are entire web sites and weeklong summer schools dedicated to cabbage parcel rolling. Overwhelmed, I just made it up, basing my naive cabbage rolling on baby swaddling, which Luca wasn’t very keen on, which was probably something to do with my shoddy technique. I imagined the ball of stuffing was Luca and placed it in the bottom third of the blanched leaf. I then brought the sides of the leaf in and tucked them round the ball snugly. This – you might be relieved to learn – is where the baby swaddling parallels end! I didn’t (even in the most sleep deprived and peculiar moments ) roll my baby up as I did the cabbage leaf round the sausage ball, that is, into a completely sealed little parcel. I can hear you clicking away to those tutorials.

The sauce is simple, a large tin of peeled plum tomatoes, passed through the mouli! Have you bought one yet? You should, they are terrific and indispensable. A heavy-based pan with a well-fitting lid is important as the parcels cook in both the simmering sauce and the hot steamy vapors that rise seductively from below. Tuck the parcels sardine-like in the pan, there should be enough sauce to come about half way up the parcels. Cook the parcels gently for about 25 minus, turn them, replace the lid and let them cook for another 25 miners. I turned them again and then let them bubble for a final ten minutes without the lid.

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We ate our parcels with a half butter/ half olive oil mash which was pretty tasty. Tasty and complete. While helping myself to another parcel and another spoonful of mash, I noted that this is a meal in which my two kitchen worlds collide in a most gratifying way. Sausages, buttered cabbage, mash and tomato sauce (Heinz I’m afraid, it was England in 1979) reinterpreted in my Roman kitchen. Cavolo verza, lugagana, pane, latteParmigiano, salvia, rosemarino, sugo di pomodoro soaked, amassed, moulded, rolled and simmered into something I’ve called Mondeghini in sugo. Or should it be Mondeghini al sugo? Al or in ? Who knows? Certainly not me!  With our parcels, mash and sauce we had a glass of very average white. Red would have been better, but we’d polished off a whole bottle the night before and it seemed indecent to open a new bottle for Thursday lunch.

The two remaining parcels were even better that evening. The stuffing seemed to have come together. I noted more obvious things:  how the milk soaked bread gives the stuffing a soft, billowy quality, how well rosemary and sage flirt with pork, that the sauce was thicker and richer than at lunch time, what a good couple cabbage and sausage make. Next time I’ll make my parcels in the morning, let them rest and then re-heat them gently at lunchtime. I ate the two parcels leaning against the kitchen counter with the glass of wine I wish I’d had at lunch time – this. I am not sure it was entirely appropriate, I should ask my wise Friend. Damn nice though.  Have a good week.

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Stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce  Mondeghini in/al sugo*

Adapted from Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe in Made in Italy and Jane Grigson’s recipe in her Vegetable book

  • 1 large savoy cabbage
  • 200 g white bread, crusts cut away
  • 150 ml whole milk
  • 300 g good quality plain pork sausages, skins removed.
  • small sprig of sage, finely chopped
  • small sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 500 g peeled plum tomatoes
  • 30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil
  • clove of garlic, peeled and gently squashed with the back of a knife.

Discard the very tough outer cabbage leaves (or use them for something else) and choose 9 nice, large inner leaves. Blanch these leaves in boiling salted water for a few moments until supple. Drain the leaves, pat them dry and then spread them out on a clean tea towel.

Soak the bread in the milk – mashing it gently with a wooden spoon – until it forms a soft thick paste. Mix the bread paste with the sausage meat, finely chopped rosemary and sage, parmesan, a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. Hands are best.

Make the parcels:  If necessary pare away some of the fat stalk so the leaf lies flat. Using your hands, make a ball of sausage mixture roughly the size of a golf-ball and sit it about a third of the way up from the base of the leaf. Bring the bottom third up and over the ball, tuck the two sides of the leaf in and then roll the sausage filled bottom third over the top two-thirds of the leaf tucking the leaf back around the whole parcel.  Secure with a toothpick.

Pass the tinned tomatoes through a mouli, sieve or simply chop them roughly while still in the tin with scissors. In a heavy- based saute pan with a lid, warm the oil and then saute the garlic until golden and fragrant (be very careful not to burn it.) Add the tomatoes, stir and bring the sauce to a gentle boil. Once boiling, lower the heat until the sauce simmers and place the parcels carefully into the sauce.

Cover the pan and gently simmer the parcels for 25 minutes, turn them, replace the lid and simmer for another 25 minutes.  Remove the lid and simmer for another 10 mines so the sauce reduces a little Let the parcels sit for 15 minutes before serving with mashed potato.

*Just to clarify –  As I noted in the post I have used Giorgio Locatelli’s rather unusual name for this recipe (and spelling) Mondeghini. This word is usually reserved for polpette (meatballs) in Lombardia as is the word mondeghili. But as I was pretty faithful to Giorgio’s recipe for stuffed cabbage from his book Made in Italy, it seemed appropriate I used his word. His Grandmothers actually, so possibly a a regional/dialect word from nearly 45 years ago! Any other information or thoughts about this word are very welcome. R 

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58 Comments

Filed under cabbage, food, Rachel's Diary, recipes, sausage, stuffed cabbage, supper dishes, tomato sauce, winter recipes

58 responses to “Part and parcel

  1. Approved, dear friend, approved! :)

    • rachel

      Always very (truly) happy to get your approval. I see you pinned it! Nice. Did you see i had to amend the in /al sugo – this language (like life) baffles me.

  2. When I was was five, my mother and I were traveling on board the M.V. Britannic from New York to Liverpool to visit her parents. I ordered caviar at dinnertime (wasn’t she good that she didn’t make me go to nursery tea?). When the steward raised his eyebrows, my mother said “She eats olives and anchovies; I’m sure she won’t leave any caviar on the plate, so please bring it to her.”

    This looks delicious, and since I LOVE cabbage but have never made stuffed cabbage, I am going to try it this week once I get my hands on some really good sausages, which may require a trip to either Eataly or BuonItalia.

    • rachel

      I think your mum sounds brilliant and might well get on swimmingly with my mum. The M.V. Britannic from New York to Liverpool! Have you written more about this? You should, it sounds like the title for a delicious short story or essay. It seems we have much i common food wise so yes, you will like this. Now go and get some sausages.

  3. Stuffed cabbage… one of my favorite things to eat! I have tried many, many recipes. And I am bookmarking this one, as I happen to have a savoy cabbage, and was planning to stop at the butcher’s tomorrow. Beautiful post and pictures!

    • rachel

      Darya, it think it might now be one of mine – warm, tasty, deeply flavored, perfect for cold, dark days. To the butcher…..

      • I was just wondering what was missing on my shopping-list: sausage meat.
        I do have a recipe for Russian stuffed cabbage on my blog, if you want to check it out (no obligations of course). And I am thinking of posting an Iraqi stuffed cabbage recipe some time in the future… so I really mean it when I say that it is one of my favorite things to eat!
        http://tortore.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/golubtsy-chou-farci-a-la-russe/

      • Buon giorno Rachel,
        Your recipe got me dreaming about making my steamed cabbages, so I looked up my usual recipe, and it is almost exactly the same as your (just using different herbs). Then, just as I was about to steam them, my boyfriend said he preferred them in tomato sauce. So I ended up just making your recipe (I had some smoked garlic on hand so that is what I used). It was super delicious. We absolutely loved it. Thank you!

  4. Ben

    I would like to point out I am a very serious actor.

  5. Iwona

    Stuffed cabbage is a traditional and very typical Polish dish. We call it “golabki”. I am delightful to see that you like it! Next time try to replace breadcrumbs with rice or buckwheat and mince meat of any kind. You can also replace sausage with salmon, season with dill, mustards and so on, dipped in a white , horseradish source:)

    • rachel

      Hi Iwona,
      Thanks for al the great tips! That I will be exploring as I am now officially stuffed cabbage obsessed. Golabki, I like that, golabki.

  6. we really must meet up in Rome on day, Rach. i love that cabbage that Volpetti do, too. loved your post, even though i cant eat it (pork), i know i can share it w friends who will love to prepare this dish. x s PS do you know there are other uses for cabbage? esp for us breastfeeding mummies xx

    • rachel

      Shayma – I am waiting to see you in Rome, I can’t wait to see you in Rome. We will all get together (H and K too) and drink far too much wine.

      I know all about the leaves, that whole first paragraph is all about just that – brassica in brassiere for lactating mothers – sorry I knew my writing was too obscure and opaque. Rx

  7. laura

    You really can make anything sound appealing! Loved the photo of Luca (and the comment) and the tip of your hat to your brother. Thank you and sogni d’oro for now!

    • rachel

      Morning.
      My brother has also noted above that he is a very serious actor. Of course he is! Bit of a rambling one today I know. But a tasty one, especially with nice Italian sausages. Hope you are well x

  8. Look good. I’m wondering about a veggie filling – any thoughts? Rice, mushroom etc? Also /agree about mouli – great bit of kit. Didn’t bring one when we moved out here, but see them – “passaverdure” – on the market.

    • rachel

      Rice, mushrooms, peas, lentils I bet they would all work. I think you might need an egg or two for binding. Yep, I really like my mouli, probably my favorite kitchen device. See you soon.

  9. Love the swaddling analogy, something that is very current in our household – seem to be doing more of that than cooking these days! With all the practice, may have to try my hand at rolling cabbage leaves! A comforting, wintry dish that reminds me of my childhood.

    • rachel

      My cabbage swaddling was, by the ninth parcel, significantly better than my Luca swaddling – my poor boy, he hated it. Unlike all my friends babies who adored it and looked unbelievably cozy. Baci to you all it is a special time that flies.

  10. Lauren

    Two posts in a row and I’m commenting on the wine! Always open the one you want that’s my rule.

  11. Ha, I have a savoy in the fridge ready for my interpretation of your majestic oak tree – mine is perhaps more like a struggling willow – this very evening. It has become a firm favourite in this house. I might try this instead. And no, despite my best attempts, I am still mouli-less. I have been asked for birthday present ideas, this might have to be it. Is it too unromantic a gift to receive do you think? No, of course it isn’t, what am I thinking?

    • rachel

      I think it’s a perfect gift, romantic too, when you seduce with your superlatively smooth sauce. I LOVE that you all like that oak-cake-tree-majestic -sausage-pie-thing – I do too. This is the deconstructed version. Xx

  12. I was all set on making meatloaf this weekend but now I’m thinking these instead…

  13. Ah, I love that you Italianized stuffed cabbage. A delightful post as always.

    • rachel

      Italianized by an English woman! Ever since getting back from London and all that stoutly English food I have felt slightly confused and then today, having been sent all these great links for Hungarian, russian and greek stuffed cabbage I have been browsing a world of stuffed cabbage and feel quite dizzy. Bed. Stay well and warm Rx

  14. Cabbage isn’t really the type of food I would have thought I’d end up craving… But now, having read this post, I’m suddenly incredibly motivated to head into the kitchen and cook up a batch of cabbage rolls. Thanks for the recipe, this is definitely on my menu for the week!

    • rachel

      You see that’s praise, it means I managed to communicate how much I like them and want to head into the kitchen and make them again – they really are good and exactly what I want to be eating these days! These and lasagna (yes more light fare) which I really should write about.

  15. Erika

    What a treat it is to read your blog and to enjoy your elegant and amusing writing. I’ve been particularly happy of late to notice that you are writing more often for all of us. Thank you. The following has probably been said a thousand times before, but I feel the impulse to urge you to (please!) write a book. I know I would be one among many who would purchase and enjoy it.

    You have a unique and wonderful voice.

    Erika

    • rachel

      Hi Erika,
      Thanks so much, that really nice to hear and I like being called elegant and amusing very much, especially as I often feel far from both. A book, who knows! It would be nice. Thank you again Rx

  16. Eha

    You have made me smile again: I actually love cabbage and cabbage rolls in particular! Well, scrolling up above there has been talk of both Russian and Polish cabbage rolls: i guess I am more used to the Russian type since Estonia lives next door – we call them ‘kapsarullid’: am not certain tho’ whether tomatoes were part of the scene? Must look up my old recipes :) !

    • rachel

      A novice in the cabbage roll world, I am overwhelmed! But in a good way – yesterday I bookmarked seven new variations from all over the globe. But not Estonia – note to myself. Always, glad to hear I made someone smile, especially you.

  17. I’ve never been a cabbage fan but these do look delicious. I suppose you had me at meat stuffing. gonna have to give it a try.

    • rachel

      Especially good with the stupendous savoy thats been rolling into Testaccio market lately. Good enough to convince even the cabbage dubious. I am now thinking about astronauts and cosmonauts.

  18. There is a similar recipe in greek cuisine as well, there are called lahanodolmades!

  19. Great recipe! I must try making stuffed cabbage with sausage meat.
    I made a meatless variety for our Orthodox Christmas dinner:
    http://thekatandthefallingleaves.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/how-to-make-the-best-meatless-cabbage-rolls-holybtsi/

    • rachel

      They sound great and I will also pass the recipe on the a couple of readers who were asking for vegetarian options – thank you

  20. Christine

    How timely! I just bought a smaller savoy cabbage (usually the ones I see are so large that they last for more than one meal) and a packet of nice sausages. I had planned on roasting the sausages and just braising the cabbage, but this will be even better! (and the husband is less likely to complain about cabbage smells if it’s smothered in tomato sauce.) How did I marry the man with the most sensitive nose, ever? And the thing is, he likes all the smelly foods, but hates the smell while cooking. Whiner, I say. But then, I made 3/4 of a giant head of savoy the other day – braised in butter and some homemade chicken broth and then proceeded to eat the entire pan. SO. Maybe I’m just kind of off. We would have been excellent, if weird, friends as kids, I can tell.

    • rachel

      Christine…..glad to hear we are in sync. Braised in butter and home-made chicken broth, I repeat Braised in butter and home-made chicken broth – yes please that sounds just my sort of cabbage thing. At least he likes eating smelly food, one of my long ago boyfriends complained about both cooking smells and overly smelly foods, he also complained about my coffee making skills – he had to go. Have a good week Rx

  21. And a most proper amount of sauce on the plate. It would disappear. I would do whatever it takes—bread, or that lovely mash.

  22. I never thought I’d be anxious to make stuffed cabbage…

  23. I don’t know if the Iwona above is my Iwona. Over the years she has cooked the stuffed cabbage for us so many times and my kids just love them. Because Iwona’s are so good I never cook them for fear of comparison but, spurred on by your post, I realised they were not just in the domain of Polish cooking and I’d give them a go. Your recipe was delicious. Since then I have discovered that they provide a very good solution to the problem (ok, never much of a problem in our house) of leftovers. Particularly leftover Sunday lunch. I have now done quite a few variations on the theme using various combos of roast pork, roast lamb, roast chicken, stuffing, rice, chopped up rost potatoes etc and they’ve all been yummy. Obviously have no recipes but the method I’ve employed is blitz it all together in the magi mix, add lots of chopped fresh herbs and maybe an egg to bind and then parcel it in the same way. Leftover gravy has often crept into the sauce and so, on occasion, has paprika, chilli, red peppers and cubes of feta! It’s my new fave thing to do for Monday supper so thank you. X

  24. Hello Rachel … just finished reading a blog by “Smitten Kitchen” who says you are her favourite writer in Rome (welcome to the club!) and the following: Quote: Italian Stuffed Cabbage [Mondeghini al sugo]
    Adapted from Rachel Eats, who adapted it from from Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe in Made in Italy and Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book. Unquote. Fascinated by all the lure of cabbage, I googled around and found that apparently there is no such thing as “mondeghini” with a final ‘n’… the spelling is not with an ‘n’ at the end, but, instead, an ‘l’ … as in : mondeghili.
    I thought you might be interested to know,that’s all. Mondeghili are apparently from Lombardy and v. popular in Milan … and one website (www.ilbocconedivino.altervista.org) says that these meatballs came via Spain via the Arabs! I think the world of food is just so fascinating, don’t you? Il termine mondeghilo deriva dall’arabo “al-bunduc” (polpetta).
    Questo popolo insegnò a quello spagnolo l’uso di confezionare una sfera di carne trita, per poi friggerla.
    Poi i castigliani chiamarono questa preparazione “albondiga” e, durante la dominazione iberica della Lombardia, la ricetta fu trasmessa ai milanesi.
    Questi ultimi storpiarono dapprima la parola in “albondeghito” e infine in mondeghilo.
    E’ probabile che anche la ricetta abbia subito delle varianti, del resto è risaputo il divieto fatto ai musulmani di consumare carne di maiale.

    • rachel

      Hi Jo,

      Wow thanks for this – I took the the name Mondeghini from Giorgio locatelli’s book. I too googled and found that the word Mondeghini (with ini) is often used for polpette. http://www.ricettetipiche.info/regioni/ricette-lombardia/mondeghini/ I also found the mondeghili spelling but stuck with Giorgio as I am pretty faithful to his recipe. I wonder why the word mondeghini didn’t come up for you. Ah the joy of google and the gazillions of regional names for everything. I did note my uncertainty in the post. I am going to research more….
      hope to see you thursday x

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