Yaprakia tis Kerkyras

Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Meat and Rice from Corfu

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ON CORFU, cabbage leaves are stuffed with equal amounts of rice and meat, flavored with pancetta, cheese and tomatoes.

This recipe is based on the description Ninetta Laskari gives in her book about her childhood years on Corfu, along with some of the history of the island. I first made this dish using the large blue-green leaves from the shoots that grow around the cabbage head. These leaves are similar to collards but somewhat thicker, and they have more flavor than the leaves of the common white cabbage. Here, I suggest using a combination of savoy cabbage and collards instead. The pink tomato-avgolemono sauce is my variation on the traditional recipe, and its lemony taste goes well with the sweetness of the stuffed cabbage leaves.

As with most stews, it’s better to make this dish a day in advance and let the flavors develop overnight. Since it contains meat, greens and rice, all you need to accompany it is a simple side dish of steamed carrots or turnips—pour some of the avgolemono sauce over them as well.

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Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 1 large savoy cabbage (about pounds)
  • 1 bunch collard greens

Stuffing

  • ¼ pound pancetta, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • cups finely chopped onions
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • cups grated ripe tomatoes (see Note) or canned diced tomatoes with their juice
  • cup medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • cup grated hard myzithra, kefalotyri or pecorino Romano cheese
  • 5 scallions (white and most of the green parts), finely chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • About cups beef stock or Chicken Stock

    Sauce

  • About ½–1 cup beef stock or Chicken Stock
  • ½ cup tomato juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 2–4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Method

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Using a sharp knife, cut out the core of the cabbage, and separate the leaves. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Blanch the leaves in batches, in the boiling water, letting the larger leaves cook for about 5 minutes and the smaller ones for about 3 minutes, or until just tender. Transfer each batch to the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking, then transfer to a colander to drain. Repeat with the collard greens, cooking them for about 3 minutes, or until just tender. You can prepare the cabbage and collard leaves a day in advance. Stack them carefully on a large plate, cover and refrigerate.

Make the Stuffing

In a large skillet, sauté the pancetta over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the oil and onions and sauté until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pork and sauté, stirring often, for 5 minutes more, or until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, rice, wine, Aleppo pepper or pepper flakes and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley, cheese, scallions and black pepper to taste. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Stuff the Leaves

Cut off the hard stems from the cabbage leaves and collard greens, and make a layer of the stems in the bottom of a large pot to prevent the stuffed cabbage from sticking. Lay 1 cabbage leaf on a work surface, and place about cup stuffing in the middle of the wider end of the leaf. Fold the sides over the filling and roll up the leaf to enclose the stuffing. Squeeze the stuffed leaf over a medium bowl to extract most of the excess liquid and place the stuffed leaf in the pot, seam side down. Continue stuffing the remaining leaves, overlapping 2 smaller cabbage leaves or 1 cabbage leaf and 1 collard leaf when you’ve used all the larger leaves, and arranging the stuffed leaves close together in the pot; make a second layer of stuffed leaves on top of the first. Place an inverted heatproof plate over the stuffed leaves to prevent them from moving during cooking, and pour in the collected liquid from the bowl and enough stock to just cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the leaves are very tender and the rice is cooked. Check from time to time to see if a little more stock is needed. Let cool completely. (If you have time, refrigerate the leaves overnight to allow the flavors to develop.)

About 30 minutes before serving, reheat the stuffed cabbage leaves: Bring the liquid just to a boil over medium heat, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes. Transfer the stuffed leaves to a heated platter, cover and keep warm while you prepare the sauce.

Make the Sauce

In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil the stuffed-cabbage cooking liquid and enough stock to equal 2 cups. Add the tomato juice, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the egg, 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of the water. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the remaining 2 tablespoons water, then whisk into the egg mixture.

Whisking constantly, slowly pour cups of the hot stock mixture, ½ cup at a time, into the egg mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan and simmer, stirring gently, until the sauce thickens. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding pepper and more lemon juice if you like.

Pour some of the sauce over the stuffed cabbage, sprinkle with the parsley and serve, with the remaining sauce on the side.

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