Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls
Although the ingredients are not seasonally limited, I always consider cabbage rolls to be an autumn dish. They are a baked, one dish meal that freezes and reheats well. The other day I had a craving for thema, as the outside temperatures are gradually dropping, but I did not have as much time as needed to do them up right – blanching the cabbage leaves enough to roll them was more demanding on time than I had, so I embraced the concept of deconstructing them.
Yes, I have recently watched a few episodes of Chopped on the Food Network. I don’t watch many food shows or competition shows, but that one intrigues me. I don’t now if it is the frantic desperation of some contestants, or the odd combination of ingredients that have to use, but I get a kick out of it. If you have ever seen the show you will be familiar with the requirement that specific, typically unrelated ingredients have to be used to create an appetizer, entrée or dessert in a limited amount of time. “Deconstructed” versions of dishes are often presented on the show typically because of time restraints. It was very fitting for my brain to wander to the show concept when a rather rigid time limit was presented to me.
I think the key to this dish is the well shredded cabbage. It cooked faster than larger pieces or fully rolled cabbage rolls. Also, the small cabbage pieces helped soak up all the wonderful flavor of the fresh garden herbs I harvested before they went to seed, as well as the joyful combination of beef and tomatoes in the alternating layers. I ate too much because it was so good, Big D already asked when it will be made again, and Little B’s plate was empty when she asked for more. I hope you enjoy it too!
Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls
1 small head cabbage, shredded
1 medium carrot
1 small yellow onion
5 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
20 fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup fresh thyme leaves
1 cup fresh parsley sprigs
2 pounds ground beef
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup grated parmesan/asiago/romano cheese
Sour cream (optional for serving)
Chop onion, carrot and garlic into small pieces. Roll the basil, oregano, thyme and parsley leaves into a small roll. With a sharp knife slice the herb roll. Cross chop the herbs again until the oils are released. In a large iron skillet over medium high heat add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the carrot, onion and garlic. Cook for about two minutes, until the onions begin to turn transparent and brown. Add the chopped herbs and stir, cooking for another two to three minutes.
Clear the vegetable mixture from the center of the skillet. Add the ground beef and break it up, folding in the vegetables as the beef pieces get smaller. When the meat is broken up into small pieces and beginning to brown add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir and turn temperature under the skillet to high. Let bubble and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the liquid reduces by half, about five to eight minutes. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for another five minutes. Salt and pepper generously to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a 9×13 baking dish place half of the shredded cabbage into an even layer. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg. Add a layer of the meat mixture, making sure half of it is left for another layer. Add a second and final layer of cabbage, again sprinkling with salt, pepper and the rest of the nutmeg. Add the second and final layer of meet, covering all the cabbage.
Sprinkle the cheese mixture on top of the meat layer. Place in preheated oven on the top shelf. Bake for 30 minutes. Check the top of the casserole, making sure it is not browning too quickly – if it is, place it on the middle or lower shelf. If is is barely brown or not at all, leave it on the top shelf.
Bake for 30 more minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.