little pigeons

If the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 are to be any indication, this is definitely the Year of the Cabbage.  David’s maternal family is of mixed Eastern European descent (he calls himself a Heinz 57), in which one slice of that Eastern European pie is definitely Polish.   For Christmas at his parent’s house we had two different variations on cabbage, and then at New Years we also ate a cabbage dish (all of which were amazingly awesome, bring on the cabbage).  So naturally, when I was browsing Smitten Kitchen for a new dinner recipe a few weeks ago and I stumbled upon her husband’s mother’s cabbage roll recipe, I decided to join the Polish band wagon and make what are traditionally and wonderfully called Gołąbki (little pigeons).

I ended up making the Gołąbki (hah!) that night, and David and I both loved it.  In fact, these cabbage rolls turned David into a “little pigeon” convert, as he previously didn’t like cabbage rolls, but loves this recipe.  These are the only cabbage rolls I’ve ever had, and they’re so good that I can’t imagine cabbage rolls that aren’t just as good.  I’m almost dangerously curious about trying whatever not good cabbage rolls he had before, just to compare.  So, this past Saturday we scrapped our plans to eat out, invited my sister Patty over for dinner, and got to cooking dinner Polish style (minus the French wine, but hey at least it was a Syrah that paired with tomato sauce, so that counts for something right?)

I think onions are at least one of the most beautiful vegetables in existence.  Their skins are paper-thin, delicate and always shimmering  in a way that mirrors abalone that you find on the beach. You slice into them and layer by layer their colors change at least subtly with your knife,  and their presence in the air is so tangible and overwhelming that it literally drives your sense of smell and taste  together in an intense and zinging cacophony.   My eyes start streaming pretty much every single time I slice an onion, but I love them so much I can’t not cook with them.  Plus, that’s what David is for, slicing onions as I wait it out across the room crying and drinking wine.

This recipe is simple, good and incredibly easy to make.  The only thing I really recommend doing is chopping up your vegetables before you start cooking, it makes things move along much more smoothly.  Also, cutting the middle out of a cabbage isn’t exactly easy.  I start on one end and hollow it out halfway through as best you can, then push your knife through (use a big knife and be careful) four times to make four marks on the other end of the cabbage.  Turn the cabbage over and use those punctures as a guideline on where to cut on the still – whole end.  You end up meeting halfway, and voila you have a hollowed out cabbage.  Lastly, when I cook these I use my cast iron 7 quart pot for the entire process.  I love one pot recipes!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

(as taken from SmittenKitchen, and tweaked just a bit)

1 head Savoy cabbage (not the purple kind)
1 pound ground beef
1 small to medium onion, chopped small
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, shredded (I use a cheese grater)
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced length wise
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 to 4 cups of simple tomato sauce (I use 2 cans)

1. Cut the core out of your cabbage, but leave it whole.

2. Sit the cored cabbage (with the  hole facing upwards) in a large bowl.  Boil a small pot of water, or a tea kettle full of water, and pour it over the cabbage.  Let it sit for about 10 minutes.

3. Heat the oil in a saucepan ( I use my large cast iron pot that I use to cook the rolls in at the end) and cook the onions until they are soft.

4. Add the carrots and celery, and cook a few minutes more until those are soft as well.

5. Transfer the onion, celery and carrots to a medium-sized bowl to let them cool.  Season them with salt and pepper.

6. Once they have cooled a bit mix the meat (raw), uncooked rice, and tomato paste into the cooked vegetable mixture.  Mix thoroughly! Season again with salt and pepper.

7.  Drain the cabbage.  Pull off the large leaves and cut out the large vein.  If the leaf is very large you can make two rolls from each. Pat the leaves dry with a towel.

8. Roll about 1/4 cup of the stuffing mixture in each leaf.  Arrange the cabbage rolls in a wide, flat pot.  Pour the two cans of tomato sauce over the rolls, this should be just enough to cover them.

9. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to allow the cabbage rolls to simmer, lid on, for 45 mintues.

10.  Time to eat Gołąbki!