It’s windy and damp out and rain is headed our way so comfort food seems in order. Truly, comfort food is always welcome when you’re from the South! So I went digging through some old recipes and decided cabbage rolls would hit the spot.
Cabbage rolls all too often fall in the same bucket as their food cousin – meatloaf. You’re either super excited they’re on the menu or you’re looking for leftover pizza in the fridge instead. To be fair, cabbage rolls are often victim to the same fate as meatloaf. All to frequently they’re bland chunks of meat rolled into a leaf with some type of equally bland sauce over the top.
This recipe for cabbage rolls come from various family recipes and has gone through a bit of tweaking through the years. Cabbage rolls are essentially small “meatloaves” tucked into tender cabbage leaves then baked in a beautiful tomato sauce. But instead of simply using ground beef, these cabbage rolls are a blend of ground sirloin, ground lamb and sweet Italian pork sausage. Layers of flavor and texture are woven into the rolls with currants, toasted pine nuts and sweet onion.
The sauce is a light, simple tomato sauce with a hint of sweetness. Nothing complicated – just enough to enhance the flavor of these beautiful rolls.
Cabbage rolls are not hard to make but they do take a bit of time, mainly in prepping the cabbage leaves. Once the cabbage leaves are steamed the rest of this dish comes together quickly.
You can prep the entire dish a day in advance, cover and refrigerate. Then when you’re ready to cook them simply let the cabbage rolls rest at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes then pop them in the oven. This recipe makes about 14-16 cabbage rolls, serving about 6-8.
Tender cabbage rolls bathed in a delicate, hot bubbly tomato sauce – and tucked inside is comforting goodness!
2 extra-large eggs
2/3 cup half and half
2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided
¾ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
3 cups tomato purée
¼ cup dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
½ cup chopped sweet onion
¼ cup currants
¼ cup toasted pine nuts *See note at the bottom of the recipe
1 large head of green cabbage, rinsed and cored
1 can plum tomatoes, 14-ounces, broken up into pieces
1 can tomato sauce, 15-ounces
1 small can tomato paste, 6-ounces
For the meat filling:
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, the half and half, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper together then add the breadcrumbs and mix well. (The breadcrumbs will soak up the liquid.)
In a separate bowl mix the 3 cups of tomato purée with the brown sugar and the dry mustard.
Combine the breadcrumb mixture with the ground sirloin, ground lamb, the Italian sausage, the chopped onion, currants and toasted pine nuts. Measure out 1-1/2 cups of the tomato purée sauce and add to the meat mixture reserving the rest of the sauce for later.
Mix gently until everything is well combined, cover and refrigerate while you steam the cabbage leaves. (Overworking ground meat will make it tough when cooked.)
To steam the cabbage leaves:
Place a steam rack in the bottom of a large stockpot. (If you happen to have a pasta insert for your stockpot, this is ideal.) Pour enough water into the bottom of the stockpot to just come to the bottom of the steam rack. Heat over medium-heat until the water is simmering. Using either a spider, tongs or large spoon carefully set the cabbage in the pan, placing any loose leaves on top to steam. Be careful – the steam can burn you quickly!
Cover and steam for about five minutes or until the outer leaves are tender and starting to turn a bit translucent. Remove any loose leaves and transfer the head of cabbage to a large cutting board or baking sheet.
Gently pull away the outer leaves being careful not to tear them. Once they’re steamed and tender the leaves will pull easily away from the head of cabbage. Place the steamed leaves on paper towels to drain and cover with foil. This will allow the heat to continue steaming the leaves while you cook the rest of the cabbage. You want the cabbage leaves pliable enough to fold.
Place the head of cabbage back in the stockpot and continue steaming until you have about 15-20 steamed cabbage leaves. Steam some extra leaves in case one or two tear.
For the sauce:
Take the reserved tomato purée and add the tomatoes, the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Stir until smooth and blended.
Spread about 1 to 1-1/2 cups of the tomato sauce in the bottom of large baking pan that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray. You want to just cover the bottom of the pan.
Take one of the steamed cabbage leaves and place a scoop of the meat mixture in the center, about ½ cup – this will vary depending on the size of the cabbage leaves.
Fold the bottom of the leaf up over the meat, and then fold in the sides and then the top.
Place the rolls fold side down on top of the sauce. Continue until all the meat is wrapped in the cabbage leaves, tucking the cabbage rolls close together in the pan. Spoon the remainder of the tomato sauce over the top.
Cover and bake at 350-degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour or until the internal temperature reaches 160-degrees.
*Toasting pine nuts will bring out their flavor and crunchiness. To toast, place the pine nuts in a skillet large enough to spread them in a single layer. Cook over medium-heat stirring frequently for about 5-8 minutes until golden. Keep a close eye on them – pine nuts can burn quickly!