Cabbage rolls kick off beginning of fall food

Twine helps hold together cabbage rolls before going in the oven for baking.

With much joy, I am proud to announce that it is the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year. Last October, I shared with you how much I enjoy autumn. When the first fall breeze coaxes me to pull out my flannel shirts, I can feel my soul bouncing back from the scorching dog days of summer. I simply cannot get enough of the season's traditions, food, weather and everything else it has to offer.

To my disappointment, it feels like it is taking a little longer than usual this year, due to the 95-degree days we have had this September. However, I think the Hoptown Harvest Festival that took place downtown this past weekend served as a fantastic kick-off to the season and reminded us how special fall is in our community.

What I enjoy the most about this season's food is the direct contrast in traditional fall recipes from summer fair. After a period of fresh produce and lighter dishes, I look forward to the comforting food of fall that tends to make you feel warm and sticks to your bones. For me, personally, the smell of a fall kitchen evokes more fond memories than anything else. One of those scents is the smell of cabbage cooking. To most people they might think it is atrocious, but when I walk into a home with cabbage on the stove, I get an overwhelming sense of coziness. It makes me want to grab a soft blanket, put on my sweatpants and sink into the couch. As we come upon the second cabbage harvest of the year, that feeling is right around the corner.

I do not believe I have ever met a vegetable that I did not like, but if you pressed me to reveal my favorite, it would probably be cabbage. I may like other vegetables' flavor a little more, but none come close to the plant's versatility in the kitchen, not even the beloved tomato.

Cabbage can be braised, fried, boiled, grilled, steamed, stewed or eaten raw. It goes well cooked down with corned beef, fried in a skillet with a good sausage, baked with apples, julienned into slaws, chopped in salads, creamed, folded into mashed potatoes for colcannon, aged into sauerkraut, boiled as a base for hearty soups, fermented alongside chili paste in kimchi -- I could go on and on for days.

Due to its versatility, a few months ago I realized Melanie and I were eating it three to four times a week. I had no clue because I was consuming it in such a variety of ways, I didn't even realize it.

Cabbage also has a high nutritional value and is low in calories. It serves as a heathy alternative to some of the heavier autumn dishes and comes in handy when I'm trying to cut some weight before the Thanksgiving Day feast. Yes, I have a holiday banquet training regimen. You have to if you are as serious about eating as I am. Cabbage is even believed to be an herbal remedy to a variety of illnesses. One example is the leaves were used as a treatment for trench foot in World War I. Cabbage is truly the Swiss-army knife of the plant world.

We have a ton of cabbage recipes in our repertoire, but probably our best is Melanie and I's cabbage rolls, a recipe we have been perfecting since we first started dating. The dish is gently boiled cabbage leaves stuffed with ground pork, caramelized onions, garlic and herbs. The leaves are then rolled similar to wonton wrappers when preparing spring rolls. Lastly, they are baked in the oven until golden brown.

It's almost as if you have pork sausage wrapped in a flavor-packed cabbage casing. The caramelized onion lends a little sweetness, and the rosemary, thyme and sage combination are a punch of aromatics that reminds you of cooler weather. While cooking the cabbage leaves release juices into the meat, this gives the flavor of this recipe a ton of depth. For only consisting of a handful of ingredients this dish is the whole package. These rolls are perfect for fall and will keep your belly full. So put on your sweatpants, scarf down a few of these, and get ready to take a cozy October nap. I hope you enjoy, and I wish you happy cooking.

The Noffsingers' Cabbage Rolls

Makes 10 to 12 rolls

1 small head of cabbage

1 pound of ground pork

½ medium yellow onion -- diced

4 cloves of garlic -- minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 egg

½ tablespoon sage -- minced

1 teaspoon rosemary -- minced

1 teaspoon thyme -- minced

½ teaspoon -- red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon -- ground ginger

Bakers twine

Salt and coarse ground pepper

Sautee onions with a dash of salt and pepper in a skillet until caramelized. Add garlic and herbs and sauté for about two more minutes in order to let their flavors open up. Set aside and cool.

Bring a gallon pot of water to a boil. Cut the core stem off the bottom of the cabbage in order to detach the leaves of the stem. Dip the whole head of cabbage into the pot of water. Use a fork to pull the leaves off of the head individually as they soften. You are only boiling the cabbage to be able to loosen up the head enough to separate the leaves. They will finish cooking in the oven. Put leaves aside on a plate covered with a paper towel to drain.

Cut bakers twine in 4 to 6 inch pieces and soak in water. This keeps them from burning in the oven.

Combine ground pork, onion, garlic, herbs, dry spices, Worcestershire sauce, egg, salt and pepper.

Square off the cabbage leaves into a rectangle to even the edges. Put about 2-3 forkfuls of the meat into the center of the cabbage leaf. Fold over the left and right sides and roll the leaf up to create a stuffed roll. Should look similar to a spring roll. Tie with bakers' twine to keep them from unwinding while baking.

Place rolls on greased baking pan seam down. Spray rolls with cooking oil. Salt and pepper all sides. Bake until browned about 40 to 45 minutes. Cut off twine and serve.

Cody J. Noffsinger is an accountant at Hopkinsville Electric System and EnergyNet. Away from the books, he enjoys gardening and feasting with friends. He has a passion for old-style cooking and learning the history behind the dishes we eat. Email him at cody@noffsingeraccounting.com.

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