Christmas Eve Cabbage Leaves

Verzolini della Vigilia

This dish comes from the Val Taro area in the province of Parma where it is eaten on Christmas Eve. As it is a magro (lean) dish containing no meat, it is suitable for such important holy days. I don’t know why one is supposed to make exactly 27 of these on Christmas Eve. However, it is part of the local tradition; and around Christmas time all local traditions, including the pagan ones, are upheld. Serve it for lunch or supper with a tomato salad.

Ingredients

  • lb (500 g) large whole cabbage leaves, separated
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 oz (75 g) stale white bread, crusts removed
  • 10 tablespoons milk
  • 7 oz (200 g) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 4 oz (100 g) fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 oz (50 g) butter
  • 6–7 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 12 fl oz (350 ml) meat stock

Method

Wash and trim the cabbage leaves. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, toss in the leaves and simmer for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, cover the stale bread with the milk and leave it to soak. Drain the cabbage leaves, select the 27 best ones and lay them out flat on a work-surface. Chop the remaining leaves finely.

Remove the bread from the milk, squeeze it dry in your hand and put it in a bowl. Add the Parmesan, eggs, fresh breadcrumbs, a little salt and pepper and the chopped cooked cabbage and mix well. Spoon about 1 heaped tablespoon of the mixture on to each cabbage leaf. Roll up and close the leaves and secure with cook’s string or wooden cocktail sticks.

Heat 1 oz (25 g) of the butter with 4 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a frying-pan until sizzling and fry the cabbage rolls until lightly browned all over. In a separate pan, fry the onion in the remaining butter and oil until the onion is soft and golden. Add the tomato purée and 5 tablespoons of the stock, stir, season with salt and simmer for a few minutes. Lay the cabbage leaves in this mixture, cover and simmer for 1 hour, adding more meat stock if necessary. Lift the rolls out of the pan and remove the string or the cocktail sticks. Arrange the rolls on a warmed dish, pour over any cooking liquid remaining in the pan and serve.

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