Look at this beauty! The Savoy cabbage. There is undeniably something particular about the Savoy. It’s creasy texture, and alluring shades of green makes it a distinctly attractive ball of leaves. Often times you might see it in the market, especially at the start of winter as it is a winter vegetable and you might be tempted to buy one and then decide against it, unable to figure out the best way to cook with it.
Naturally it can be used in a variety of ways, like stir fries, or simply pan fried with butter and pepper, or braised with onions or added to cold salads or coleslaws. All of these are delicious ways to include cabbage in my life, and I enjoy every one. But there is something so special about the leaves of the Savoy that the first time I bought one, I said to myself that it would be a shame to slice these beautiful leaves and so the idea came to me, to roll up the leaves with a stuffing inside. I later learned that a stuffed Savoy recipes are famous all over the world but forgive my ignorance as I personally never cooked with Savoy until Italy introduced me to the country’s best loved cabbage.
I would like to think that next to all the other stuffed Savoy recipes out there, this is one that hasn’t been attempted before. The first time I cooked Savoy it was pure luck! I put various good ingredients together and surprisingly created a dish so special that I like to reserve it for significant occasions only but that is proving to be an arduous task . With winter around the corner and the markets full, it’s a challenge to try and stop myself from making it too often.
What I’ve done here is stuffed the outer cabbage leaves (as they are quite large) with a buttery filling of sautéed cabbage and onions combined with velvety smashed potato and lovingly topped it with a béchamel sauce before baking. The end result are fluffy pillows of cabbage drenched in a thick sauce with a thin crust of crisp parmesan. It’s spot on served with a side of roasted or grilled meats but I find the Savoy to be so superior to its cabbage cousins that it can certainly be the star on the table. There is a richness to this dish that I dream about from time to time so it really doesn’t have to be an accompaniment. But of course with Christmas around the bend why not make this a sumptuous addition to the side dishes at your Christmas dinner.
It is one of those dishes that can be a made a day in advance with only the béchamel to do on the day of, so less stress on the big day. And if you are stressing about making béchamel, you need not because I have such a fool-proof béchamel recipe that it literally takes me ten minutes from start to finish without lumps. When I was in school one of the first cookery lessons was the béchamel sauce to teach us how to turn a roux (melted butter and flour) into a sauce without the dreaded floury lumps. You could fail an exam if you had lumps in your sauce, it was a way to test technique in wrist action. But forget all that because yes we’re not in school anymore and no we have no desire to do things the painstaking way.
Professional chefs insist that the milk must be added slowly to the roux with rapid whisking to ensure a smooth A grade béchamel sauce, but some the greatest home cooks have said that if you add warm milk all at once to your roux and then begin the stirring you will yield the perfect lump free sauce you can be proud of and that’s why we love home-cooks, they make kitchen work a dream. Almost a decade ago, a dear friend of mine Charles, surprised me with a book that he got from a used-books Fair that was written in the mid 20th century by a legendary Brit who was an educator as well as florist (to the queen) but later became the co-principal of the Cordon Bleu School of Cookery in London. Since then I’ve kept the book like a Bible and my béchamel recipe is adapted from The Contance Spry Cookery Book that was first published in 1956. I’ve been using her method since 2007 and I believe that on that sweet day Charles bought me the paperback on the sheer instinct that I might like it, was a day I hit the jackpot. Discovering culinary secrets like these are priceless and saves us devastation in the kitchen. While we’re always experimenting, there are some fundamental recipes that will always deliver excellence and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to share them with you. I hope this makes your life in the kitchen simpler and happier.
For the Cabbage Parcels
- 1 large savoy cabbage
- 1 onion
- 3 large potatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tbs butter
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp mixed dry herbs
- 50g cream cheese
- 100g ricotta
- black pepper to taste
- In a large pot bring 2 litres of water to the boil.
- In a large bowl create an ice water bath with cold water and ice cubes.
- Place the whole cabbage into the boiling water for one minute then turn it over in the pot and allow it to sit for another minute. Transfer cabbage into the water bath turn it over to ensure all sides are cooled.
- Remove from the water bath.
- Remove whole leaves one at a time without tearing them. Remove 8 whole cabbage leaves and place over a colander to drain out the excess water.
- Cut the remaining cabbage in half and use only one half while reserving the rest in the fridge for other recipes.
- Slice the cabbage finely discarding the core.
- Peel and slice onion.
- In a separate pan heat oil and butter. Sautè onion in oil and butter with pepper.
- Add sliced cabbage and 1tsp of salt and leave to cook for 20 minutes. At the end of cooking time the cabbage must be free from water. If there are traces of water in the pan, remove the lid to let the steam escape and continue to cook until the water dries. Set aside.
- Peel and cut the potatoes into medium-sized cubes and place in the boiling water to boil for 20 mins.
- Peel and halve garlic. Place into the boiling water to boil with the potatoes.
- Drain potatoes and garlic in a colander and allow to steam dry for two minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes, ricotta, cream cheese, herbs, remaining salt, and smash together until well combined and mashed.
- Add the cooked cabbage and onion mixture and mix everything together to form the stuffing.
- Grease a large casserole dish with a couple of drops of oil.
- Take a cabbage leaf and with the stalk facing away from the body add 2 heaped tbs of stuffing, fold over the two sides and roll up until it forms a parcel. Snip off the tough stalk at the end to neaten and place in the dish stalk side facing down.
- Repeat this step for all 8 leaves.
- Set aside.
For the Bechamel Sauce
- 1 small onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 500ml milk
- 60g butter
- 4 tbs plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- grated nutmeg to taste
- 3tbs grated parmesan
- Slice onion in half to extract more flavour.
- In a small saucepan bring milk, onion and bay leaf to heat slowly but not boil.
- In a separate pan on low heat, melt butter.
- When butter is melted add flour and whisk.
- Cook roux for 2-3 minutes to ensure that the flour cooks leaving no traces of a floury taste in your sauce.
- Hold a sieve over the pan and drop in the milk through the sieve to retain the onion and the bay leaf and discard.
- Start to whisk the milk mixture.
- Add salt and keep whisking.
- Turn up the heat gradually and continue whisking.
- When the sauce starts to thicken enough to coat a spoon switch off the heat.
- At this point the sauce can thicken some more but since it will be baked again it will thicken in the oven.
- Pour sauce over the dish of cabbage parcels.
- Top with parmesan and grated nutmeg.
- Bake at 160°C gas fan /180°C electric fan / 200°C conventional for 25 minutes.
- Place under the hot broiler for a further five minutes.
- Serve hot.
Mastros Need To Know *It is very important to remember that to remove the outer leaves of the cabbage without tearing them it is vital to place the cabbage in very hot water so the leaves can soften. If you try to remove the leaves without including this step the leaves will most certainly tear rendering them useless for cabbage parcels. *Also remember that the ice water bath is essential to stop the cooking process otherwise you will yield very wilted leaves and lose flavour. *When making the béchamel it is important to use a sieve or strainer when pouring the milk into the roux because you want to add the milk as quickly as possible without the possibility of the onion, bay leaf and the skin of the hot milk falling in. By adding the milk quickly and all at once you will eliminate the risk of lumps in your sauce. Always remember that when making the roux the ratio must be equal parts butter to flour. And the liquid added must be eight parts to one part roux. Use these ratios for a perfect sauce. *The béchamel for this recipe does not necessarily have to thicken to its full potential as this will make the sauce too thick to pour over the cabbage parcels evenly. Let the sauce thicken to pouring consistency and the rest will be done in the oven as it heats. *If the sauce gets too thick add more milk a little at a time and stir until the desired consistency is reached. *Make sure to trim the stalks off the cabbage leaves as they are not be palatable for this particular recipe.