When I was in grade school, I had a fascination with my family history. I suppose Paul, coming from a country with a considerably longer history than America, would say that was me searching for a past. Perhaps. But regardless, I loved learning about where I came from.
As it turns out I'm a European mutt, drawing an identity from no one particular country. Which I suppose makes sense. Whenever I travel in Europe people seem to think that I am from whatever country I happen to be in (until I open my mouth of course).
My sheepherding German relatives (who abandoned animal husbandry in the mid 19th century for the land of the free) gave me my last name but I don't consider myself "a German". I have Norwegian blood from my seafaring great grandfather, but am the least Scandinavian looking person you could ever find. I don't particularly identify with my Scottish ancestors (minor nobility who left for America once it became clear the family money wouldn't trickle down far enough to reach them) either.
But I do have a certain affection for the idea of my hardscrabble Polish (or Ukranian, depending on who you talk to) great grandmother who was sent to America as a young adolescent to live with family, presumably to avoid the poverty of her homeland. My sister once visited Poland and said she felt that she had somehow come home...everyone looked just like her.
So perhaps that is why at the age of eleven or so, at Christmas I absolutely insisted on making cabbage rolls, the food of my ancestors. After much blanching and rolling and braising, the result was...eh. Not exciting. I was disappointed in the food of my ancestors.
So when I received the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living, one of the many magazines I just signed up for using air miles I figure I will never get to use for an actual flight, I didn't focus too sharply on her recipe for Stuffed Savoy Cabbage initially. But something about it lodged in my mind, so I eventually felt compelled to come back to it and made a batch.
And it was a true revelation. I should probably mention as a disclaimer that I used some insanely expensive outrageously good meat from Dickinson's Farmstead Meat at Chelsea Market, but the flavors were bright and clear and really made me sit up and take notice. I can now take pride in the food of my eastern european predecessors...or at least in Martha Stewart's version of it.
Stuffed Savoy Cabbage With Beef, Pork and Rice in a Spicey Tomato Sauce
From Martha Stewart Living, January 2010
28 ounces of whole peeled plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
For the Stuffed Cabbage
1 large head Savoy cabbage
12 ounces ground chuck
12 ounces ground pork
2 cups cooked brown rice (from 1 cup)
1/2 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
1/4 cup flat leafed parsley, chopped
1 tablespoons hot paprika (I used regular and threw in a pinch of cayenne)
1. Make tomato sauce: Pulse tomatoes with juice in tomatoes in food processor until finely chopped. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, until onion is tender, about 6 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thick, about 20 minutes. Season with salt. Let cool completely.
2. Make the stuffed cabbage: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cabbage head, and cook until outer leaves are just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Peel outer layers of leaves, and drain. Return remaining cabbage to water, and repeat until all leaves are cooked and removed. (I just peeled off a few leaves and blanched them independently of the remaining cabbage head). Pat each leaf dry with a kitchen towel. Select 12 large light-green leaves. Reserve remaining leaves for another use.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using 2 forks, gently stir together beef, pork, rice, onion, parsley, paprika, and 1 tablespoon salt.
4. Working with 1 leaf at a time, trim thick part of rib with a paring knife, leaving leaf intact. Arrange about 1/2 cup filling (less for smaller leaves) in center of each leaf. Fold stem end of cabbage over filling. Fold in sides of cabbage. Carefully roll cabbage over to form a package, overlapping ends to seal. Transfer each, seam side down, to a large, shallow baking dish.
5. Spread sauce over stuffed cabbage leaves. Cover with parchment-lined foil, and bake until cooked through and cabbage is tender, about 1 hour.