Sunday, 12 January 2014

Turning Over Some New Leaves

Millefoglie di Verza & Carne Macinata
Layered Savoy Cabbage & Ground Meat, with Ginger, Sun-Dried Tomato & Fennel Seeds

Although we are enjoying a very mild week or two here in Frankfurt, it IS Winter elsewhere and it is the right time to be enjoying those lovely Winter greens... which is exactly what I decided to do this evening! 

Savoy cabbage is one of my favorites, but if you belong to "The Realm of Singledom" like I do, you may indeed feel challenged when you see greens that are big enough to feed a family of 5 or more when you are out grocery shopping- especially if you shop at a supermarket. Which is just one more reason that I prefer to shop for my groceries at the market hall, where vegetables are on sale the way that nature intended- large, small, perfect, imperfect... just like things used to be before factory farming! Remember that?

So here my friends are the ingredients I used to make this delicious dish- ta-dah! There has been no camera-trickery involved in the picture below either, before you ask... that little cabbage is indeed just barely the size of a grapefruit! The sun-dried tomatoes are cherry tomatoes. These things of course are of no real importance to you good people out there, who will of course use regular-sized produce and feed more than one person! Although, I know that many, many people are in the exact same situation that I am in and are faced with preparing an adequate meal for no one more than themselves- which is always more difficult! But I digress...

As you can see, what you are going to need is cabbage, ground meat (this was a mix of 60% beef and 40% pork), sun-dried tomatoes, onion, ginger and bread crumbs... these are the basic ingredients- the only other things you are going to need are fennel seeds, salt and pepper. This is a simple little dish- but what a delicious one!

The first thing that you need to do is to turn on your oven to get it nice and warm. Ok, good- and the second is that you need to start a little water boiling ing your saucepan, set your steam rack on top of it- and take care of that cabbage! Mine, being as small and tender as it was, was no problem at all- I just each leaf away right at the stem, one at a time, which works perfectly, letting you remove the leaves without damaging them. I say that my little cabbage was no problem at all, as the stalks in the middle of the leaves were very young and tender. If you are dealing with a full-sized cabbage, there are 3 methods for dealing with the tough stalks. 

You can either, a.) cut them out and discard them- which is a method I do not particularly like as it results in your leaves only being half the size.... or b.) you can use a rolling pin or bottle to crush the stems flat- or c.) lay the leaf down flat and carefully make a horizontal cut along the stem and cut half of it away. I prefer the last 2 methods, as they at least leave the whole leaf intact. But of course- this whole discussion is purely one of aesthetics... so let's get back to cooking- or steaming in this case! I gave these small leaves 5 minutes, but a full sized leaf may be better off steaming for 9-10. Basically, when the color has changed to a deeper, vibrant shade and the leaves begin to fold-in on themselves you can fetch them out and let them cool off. 

Whilst the cabbage is steaming, make use of the time by finely chopping the other ingredients- the onion and tomatoes into slices, the ginger into a very fine dice. The amount you are going to need will of course depend on the size of your cabbage, the amount of people you are cooking for... and how hungry you are- but take a look at my fist picture and you will see that just 1 handful of meat was enough to make 3 slices of this lovely dish. 

I have called this recipe a "miillefoglie", which literally translated from the Italian means "1000 layers"... and though we will only have 3 or 4 layers at the most- layering is what this is all about. Think of it as a lasagne-type construction if you will.

Start off by sprinkling just a little ground meat and onion on the bottom of your dish and then lay out the largest leaves first. The meat underneath will give you enough fat when it cooks to keep the leaves from sticking- in fact, there is no need for any added fat at all in this dish apart from the fat in the ground meat- which is pretty excellent.

Build up the layers by sprinkling the leaves with meat, onion, ginger, tomato and bread crumbs- look at the images above and you will see that a little goes a long way. Don't over-fill and over-do things- a good balance is always better than excess in all things in the kitchen. Especially the sun-dried tomatoes- you just need a little here and there to give a good flavor... but don't forget those fennel seeds as they are both delicious with the ground meat, but also great at helping you digest those greens.

Don't forget to season with salt and pepper each time, and build up your layers until your baking dish is nicely full, pressing down a little each time. Sprinkle the final layer with salt and pepper, give it a light drizzle of olive oil, add a light drizzle of water around the outside edges to help produce a little steam, cover with foil and bake at around 250°F for 45 minutes on the middle shelf of your oven. 

And after 45 minutes, your stuffed cabbage will look a little something like this!

The great thing is that the bread crumbs soak up all of the flavors from the meat and cabbage juices, the ginger and sun-dried tomatoes, the fennel, salt and pepper... and help to bind everything together, so that you can cut out nice slices to serve up either "as-is"- or with some other side dish such as potatoes or rice for example.

I decided to eat this whole thing of course- lucky me! So no other carbs were involved than the bread crumbs in the filling- but either way, as you have seen, there was no extra fat added and this whole thing is a lovely, healthy affair. The few drops of olive oil on the top most leaves were basically only there to stop them from sticking to the foil- basically everything steams and bakes together, all of the flavors remain intact- and it is simply a good thing!

I shall leave you with a parting close-up glimpse of just how yummy, succulent and delicious this is! It is dishes like this that almost make it ok when it gets cold outside- they are something to look forward to, are warming and comforting and just the right thing on a cold Winter's night.

Ugh. As I said... Winter is set to begin at the end of the week for us... so I better start thinking of a few more yummy dishes like this! But first things first- it is time for me to enjoy this one right now! And I hope you do too!

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