When I was a youngster, my Birthday Dinner was Veal Marsala and Pineapple Cream Pie. My mom made a great dish with pounded beef, mushrooms, and marsala – we never saw $$$ veal in our house – and she served it over buttered egg noodles. Delicious.
Fast-Forward a few years and the Birthday Dinner has become Stuffed Cabbage.
What makes this so special is Victor has never really been fond of cooked cabbage, but, knowing how much I like it, he made it for me one year – and liked it, too! It’s become a twice-a-year dish – once in winter and once for my birthday!
And since this was a birthday celebration, we started off with prosecco and homemade goat cheese, along with little crackers and hot peppers. Victor made the cheese yesterday. It is outstanding! We both really like hot peppers – there is always a container of peppers in the ‘fridge – and we’ve taken to jacking up the heat from the store-bought peppers with a couple of the hot peppers from our yard.
More calories than we normally have for dinner, but… what the hell.
From cheese and peppers to stuffed cabbage served over rice. The rice is perfect for sopping up all of that delicious sauce.
The recipe originated with Ina Garten. It takes time to prepare – and it’s worth every second!
- 3 tablespoons good olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
- 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes and their juice
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large head Savoy or green cabbage, including outer leaves
For the filling:
- 2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
- 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
- 1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions, and cook over medium-low heat for 8 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar, raisins, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Remove the entire core of the cabbage with a paring knife. Immerse the head of cabbage in the boiling water for a few minutes, peeling off each leaf with tongs as soon as it s flexible. Set the leaves aside. Depending on the size of each leaf, you will need at least 14 leaves.
For the filling, in a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, rice, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add 1 cup of the sauce to the meat mixture and mix lightly with a fork.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
To assemble, place 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Remove the hard triangular rib from the base of each cabbage leaf with a small paring knife. Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of filling in an oval shape near the rib edge of each leaf and roll up toward the outer edge, tucking the sides in as you roll. Place half the cabbage rolls, seam sides down, over the sauce. Add more sauce and more cabbage rolls alternately until you ve placed all the cabbage rolls in the pot. Pour the remaining sauce over the cabbage rolls.
Cover the dish tightly with the lid and bake for 1 hour or until the meat is cooked and the rice is tender.
It really is one of those classic meals that succeeds on every level. It’s a perfect agrodolce – sweet and sour – with perfect textures and perfect flavors. We each had two rolls. More than enough after cheese and peppers, although a part of me wanted to finish the pan.
We didn’t have the Pineapple Cream Pie, though. I think Victor asked me half a dozen times if I wanted a birthday cake – and I repeatedly said no.
We had fresh fruit. But… we get to have the leftovers for dinner, tomorrow!
It’s better than cake!