I'm really not sure why I was thinking of stuffed cabbage. I don't think I have seen or read anything about it recently, but it was on my mind, and it seemed like a warming sort of seasonal supper dish. Even though it's March and the days are getting longer, it's not really warming up yet!
There are lots of different ways to go about stuffing a cabbage. One of my mother's old cookbooks had a very impressive step by step guide to stuffing a whole cabbage - boiling, peeling back the leaves, painting each with forcemeat and reshaping before boiling again. Grand, but quite a lot more food than two people need. Forming each leaf into a little cigar around the stuffing seems to be the more common way. I took an approach inspired by Richard Turner's book Hog, making pork and stuffing parcels.
It looks and sounds quite time consuming but unless you have a really big family and are scaling up the recipe a lot it doesn't take too long. But it isn't a dish to start cooking when you get home late from work.
5g dried porcini, broken into small pieces
12 savoy cabbage leaves
250g minced pork
1 shallot, minced
Big handful of fresh breadcrumbs (maybe 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
salt & pepper (extra)
Sour cream (optional)
Pour the brandy over the mushrooms to soften.
Carefully break off 12 cabbage leaves, and make 4 piles of 3 leaves each, aiming for a big, medium and smaller leaf in each pile. I basically dealt them into the piles as I broke them off, so they naturally decreased in size as I went around.
Cut the chunkiest bit of the spine out of each leaf, but try not to tear them.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and using tongs, dunk each pile of cabbage leaves in the boiling water for 2 minutes until supple but not mushy and then drain in a colander.
Place the minced pork, egg, mushrooms (with any remaining brandy but trying to avoid any grit at the bottom of the bowl), shallot, breadcrumbs, thyme and paprika in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Combine well with your hands. Divide the mixture into 12 equal-sized portions.
Working with one pile of leaves at a time, wrap a ball of stuffing mixture in the smallest leaf of a pile, then spread another ball of stuffing onto the middling sized leaf and place the smallest, stuffed leaf on that. Then repeat for the largest leaf. Repeat for the other three piles of cabbage leaves.
Place, seam-side down in an oven proof dish that will hold the parcels snuggly.
In a sauté pan, warm a splash of olive oil gently and soften the garlic cloves in it. Before they burn, add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Swish the tin out with a slosh of vermouth or water and add to the pan. Season with a little salt and pepper and simmer until thick.
If you are going to cook the stuffed cabbage immediately, pour the tomato sauce on, cover the dish with foil and bake at 180C for an hour. If you are stuffing the cabbage ahead of time, don't pour the hot sauce onto the cold, raw meat... either cool the sauce completely before pouring it on, or make the sauce just before you intend to bake them.
After 45 minutes take off the foil, and allow the sauce to thicken for the final 15 minutes of cooking time. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Mashed potatoes would be a good side dish.