involtini di verza
(savoy cabbage rolls with pork & rice)
Did you love ‘cabbage rolls’ as a child? I recently posted a photo on my personal instagram account of our homemade cabbage rolls for dinner; the amount of followers who reminiscently commented that I had taken them back was tremendous! And I get taken back too – each and every time I cook ‘Involtini di Verza’! It is a comfort food memory, one that is triggered instantaneously the minute I smell the cabbage rolls stewing! (scroll down for my full recipe)
Savoy cabbage leaves is the cabbage leaf of choice to envelope your filling for this dish, which is perfect as it is presently at its best right now – it’s a winter cabbage! These savoy cabbage leaves have the distinctive crimp wrinkly appearance. I find these leaves are the best for this recipe as they are easily pliable to mould, like a blanket, around your filling. I have a few savoy cabbages growing in my kitchen garden and I can’t wait till they are ready for harvest! Can you guess how I will employee them in the kitchen?
I have never tried any other filling (or do I wish to), then my mum’s recipe which I share with you here today. We have only ever made this filling with regular fat pork mince, cooked medium grain rice, finely chopped parsley, chopped onion & garlic, pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano cheese (I prefer to use pecorino), & seasoning. However, I did have a little squiz at a few other recipes to see for similarities &/or differences. In Marcella Hazan’s cookbook, ‘Marcella Cucina’, pork loin steaks replace our pork mince. Marcella directs the reader to fry the pork loin steaks until brown on both sides and then thinly slice them to add to the remaining mixture, which includes finely chopped rosemary. I would personally not recommend pork loin fillets for this recipe I share – loin is a leaner cut of meat and when cooked (especially twice) will dry out and be tough to eat with little to no flavour!
Stephanie Alexander shares her mother’s recipe for cabbage rolls in her cookbook, ‘Recipes My Mother Gave Me’. Stephanie’s mother uses a different protein altogether; beef mince and other herbs such as thyme & marjoram. Stephanie’s recipe stresses the importance of adding cooked rice – not leaving it raw as that would make it stodgy. I didn’t even know that was a thing, so yes, make sure to add cooked rice to your mixture.
If you are unable to eat pork; perhaps employ beef or chicken mince, or maybe even lamb? If you don’t eat meat altogether, then create a combination of chopped green leaves, herbs, cooked rice, and other vegetables such as tomatoes & pumpkin.
The method of stewing the cabbage rolls in a poaching liquid of homemade chicken or vegetable stock with a small amount of tomato passata adds another intense level of flavour to this dish. It is unbeatable good.
It truly is a dish that ticks all the boxes for a perfect winter nights dinner – like a big warm hug!
• 12 whole savoy cabbage leaves
• ½ cup white rice (medium grain), rinsed in a strainer under cold
• 1kg pork mince, regular fat
• 1 large brown onion, finely chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• ½ cup or a small bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped
• 2 egg, free range
• 2 tsp nutmeg, grated
• 65g or ½ cup pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano cheese, finely grated
• 1 tsp ground white pepper
• 2 tsp sea salt
• 1 ltr of chicken or vegetable stock
• 400g tomato passata
- Bring a large pot of salted water (about ½ handful of fine sea salt) to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Gently wash the savoy cabbage leaves without breaking them, and carefully slide them into the hot salted water. Scoop the leaves out to drain once they become tender enough to be pliable (about 2-4 minutes) and set them aside.
- Cook your rice in a rice cooker (if you have one) or else place rice and 2 cups of water into a medium size saucepan and cook until tender. Drain and leave to cool a little.
- In a large bowl, add the pork mince, cooled rice, brown onion, garlic, parsley, eggs, nutmeg, pecorino cheese, ground white pepper, and sea salt. Mix until well combined.
- Turn the oven on to 160°C. Place in a medium to large casserole dish the chicken or vegetable stock and tomato passata. Stir to mix through. Set aside. Take a cabbage leaf and spread it out flat on your work bench. Place ½ a handful of pork mixture (squeeze gently to form a little mini log) then sit it into the centre of leaf. Fold the leaf’s edges over the centre to enclose like and envelope. You can place a toothpick through the centre to hold it all into place. Repeat process until all cabbage leaves are filled.
- Place the cabbage rolls snugly into the prepared casserole dish. Cover with a lid and sit in the preheated oven for 1 hour. After this time, remove from the oven, remove the lid and reduce the liquid a little by sitting the dish on stove top over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.
- NOTE: there may be a little pork mixture leftover after filling all the cabbage leaves. If so, roll up into little meat patties and add to a tomato sugo or fry to make little pitticelle (fritters).