I had heard of Polish stuffed cabbage but not Italian, and when I first saw the recipe at Smitten Kitchen I knew I had to make it. A meatball of Italian sausage is rolled up in savoy cabbage leaves, and slowly simmered in tomato sauce. But the recipe wasn't exactly healthy, so I set about with some tweaks. I swapped out the pork sausage for chicken sausage, low-carb whole wheat bread for white bread, and low-fat milk for whole milk. But it wasn't right: the meat was too lean, so the texture and taste were a bit lacking. I tried again and went halfway, using a blend of pork sausage and chicken sausage, and the result was healthier and heavenly.
Production and cooking do take time, so set aside a lazy Sunday when you'll want to putter in the kitchen. You'll need to carefully peel and blanch cabbage leaves, make the filling, and then cook the parcels for about an hour. Another error I made the first time was buying a small head of cabbage; the larger the head, the larger the leaves, and the more likely the leaves will fully envelop the filling. The whole wheat bread also isn't as soft as white bread, and chicken sausage isn't as soft as pork sausage -- I used the food processor to blend them, buzzing the bread into crumbs and chopping the sausage up finer. Finally, I did away with the toothpicks on the second try. They're not necessary, and I don't like the idea of biting into a stray one.
The serving suggestion of mashed potatoes on the side is perfect. Although it took a bit of work to put this together yesterday, all I've got to do tonight is reheat. Joe really loved these, and I'm look forward to digging into the leftovers come dinnertime.
Italian Stuffed Cabbage
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen via Rachel Eats
Makes 12 cabbage rolls (2 to 3 per person)
1 large savoy cabbage
7 ounces (200 grams) of bread, crusts cut away (I used When Pigs Fly's low carb whole wheat)
⅔ cup (about 150 grams) 1% low-fat milk
2 sweet Italian sausage links (about 200 grams), casings removed
2 chicken sausage links (about 200 grams), casings removed
½ tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp dried oregano
2 tbs grated parmesan (I left this out, but you might not want to)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
For the cabbage
Fill a large pot or deep-sided skillet with water and bring to a boil. Discard the first two or three outer cabbage leaves, then carefully peel 12 large leaves, trying to keep tears to a minimum. Blanch leaves in boiling water for 1 minute, then move to paper towels or a cooling rack set over a sheet pan to drain and cool.
For the filling
Place the bread in food processor, and process into crumbs. Pour in the milk, and pulse to combine. Break up the chicken sausage into a few pieces. Add them to the food processor with the pork sausage, herbs, parmesan, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until combined. Using your hands, form filling into 12 meatballs. A 2¼-inch scoop will dish out almost exactly 12 meatballs.
For the cabbage rolls
Lay a cabbage leaf flat, and trim away about an inch of the thick stalk in the center at the bottom. Place a meatball on one end of the leaf and roll up, folding in the top and bottom also. Set aside seam side down, and repeat with the remaining leaves and meatballs.
The sauce and the rest
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes and stir. It will come to a boil quickly. Add a big pinch of salt and some pepper. Add the cabbage rolls, placing them seam side down. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Using two big spoons, carefully flip each cabbage roll over, then simmer an additional 25 minutes. Remove the lid for the final 15 minutes to reduce the liquid. (The total cooking time will be 50 minutes.) Serve.