Tegame di Verza e Maiale al Forno

Baked Layered Savoy Cabbage and Pork

Think of this dish as a sort of lasagne, in which parboiled and flattened Savoy cabbage leaves replace the pasta, and sautéed ground pork takes the place of the meat sauce. As in lasagne, there is the aroma of nutmeg and, to bind the components, grated Parmesan and béchamel. Its season is late in the year, when outside it is cold and inside you want something warming.

Ingredients

  • 2 to 2½ pounds Savoy cabbage
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, plus additional butter for dotting the baking dish
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground pork containing at least 25 percent fat
  • Black pepper in a grinder

For the béchamel

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • tablespoons flour
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)

Method

  1. Detach from the cabbage head as many leaves as possible without tearing them or breaking them up. To do so, make a horizontal incision at the base of the leaves where they are joined to the root. Loosen the leaves, one by one, pulling them away gently from the bottom where you’ve made the incision. When you get to the heart of the head, the leaves may be too tightly curled into each other to separate; at that point, cut the heart into quarters from top to bottom.
  2. Soak all the leaves and heart in a basin of cold water while you bring a pot of 6 to 8 quarts of water to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt. When the water resumes boiling, drop in the largest of the leaves. Boil for 5 minutes, then transfer the leaves to a colander, using a large slotted spoon. Drop the remaining, smaller leaves and heart into the pot. Since they are more tender, boil them for only about 3 minutes, then transfer them to the colander.
  3. Put the 2 tablespoons of butter and the vegetable oil in a medium-size sauté pan and turn on the heat to medium. When the fat is hot, add the ground pork. Crumble it with a fork, sprinkle with salt and grindings of black pepper, and cook, turning it from time to time, until it is browned all over. Turn off the heat.
  4. Make the béchamel as described, put it in a bowl, and add the browned meat with all its pan juices. Add the nutmeg, all but 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese, and mix thoroughly. Taste and correct for salt and pepper.
  5. Turn on the oven to 400°.
  6. Smear the bottom of an oven-to-table baking dish with butter. Line the bottom with a layer of cabbage leaves. Spread enough of the pork and béchamel mixture over the cabbage to cover it thinly. Repeat the operation, alternating layers of cabbage leaves with coatings of pork until you have used up both ingredients. The heart of the cabbage can be spread open, flattened and used like the other leaves. You can end with a top layer of either cabbage or pork, but it is slightly better if it is the pork.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of grated cheese over the top and dot with tiny dabs of butter. Bake in the uppermost level of the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Allow to settle for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Serving Suggestions

Makes a hearty single-course lunch or simple dinner, followed by a salad of greens with possibly a little rucola (arugola), a nugget or two of parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan), and accompanied by a slightly chilled, fruity, young red wine.

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