Charl Cooks… Old-style: Cabbage-wrapped Italian Meatballs and Tipsy Tart
Maybe holidays make me nostalgic, so this week a return to the old favourites, with a hint of a makeover – enhancing or adding a flavour here, changing a traditional ingredient there… Your granny’s cabbage wrapped meatballs (my version originally beef, thyme & wholegrain mustard, with feta cube in the centre, today’s uses PnP Italian style pork sausage and origanum) and tipsy tart (I hauled out the incredibly neatly hand-written one from family friend, Val Rowles, bumped up the spice and added orange zest and more brandy – obviously)
The meatball is a fairly basic recipe - fun to experiment with. Basically, seasoned (beef) meatballs are wrapped in blanched (cabbage) leaves and baked in the oven (or stove-top, lid on for slightly longer). In a way this is a Western wonton soup using cabbage instead of wonton pastry.
Use chicken, lamb, pork or soya mince (or a combination of them); flavour with mixed herbs, or a specific herb; add cheese (grated in or in the centre), bacon bits; change the form of onion used (leeks, spring onions, chives, garlic or red/normal onions); season them for example with red thai curry paste or a spicy rub; replace the cabbage leaves with double the amount of spinach/lettuce leaves etc, etc.
Thyme & feta cabbage-wrapped meatballs
8-12 cabbage leaves
4 slices of stale bread, crusts removed and soaked in 100ml milk
500g lean beef mince
2 leeks (white & light green parts only), finely chopped
2½ ml dried thyme, rubbed finer
15ml wholegrain mustard
8-12 cubes of feta (about 1,5cm each)
30ml sunflower oil
250ml hot chicken/beef/vegetable stock (5ml powder dissolved in 250ml water)
Italian cabbage-wrapped meatballs
Replace leeks with ½ bunch of spring onions, wilted for a minute or two in the microwave with a little butter
Omit thyme, mustard and feta, use chicken or vegetable stock, add 5ml origanum
First blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling salted water for 2-3 mins or until they’d be soft enough to roll; refresh by plunging into cold water before draining. Cut out about 3cm of the hard stem (to make them easier to roll) and reserve the leaves, taking care at all times not to tear them. Now mix the mince, soaked bread, leeks, thyme, mustard and salt. Form the mix into 8 or 12 equal sized patties about 5-7cm in diameter, place a feta cube in the middle of each and form the mince around it to make meatballs.
Fry the meatballs in the oil over medium-high heat in 2 batches until browned (but not necessarily cooked), a minute or two per side. As usual, take care not to burn the meatballs or the pan; pour the hot stock into the frying pan after the cooking and stir the bits into the stock (deglaze) for maximum flavour. Place each meatball on a cabbage leaf where you removed the stem, fold the sides over the top of the meatball and roll up the meatball in the leaf. Place them seam side down in an oiled, square casserole dish (about 30x30cm); they should fit fairly snugly. Pour over the hot stock and bake covered (with the lid or foil) in a 180’ C preheated oven for 25-30 mins till bubbling and cooked through. Serve with seasonal veg of your choice on mash, rice, potato wedges, couscous or pasta rice with a little of the cooking liquid poured over.
A suggestion from good friend, worldly taster (and photo-food thief), Glenn, was to increase the amount of stock and convert this dish into a soup; I could imagine that working well.