Thank God for mothers-in-law. Or if you prefer, mother-in-laws. Mine was a gem. If it hadn’t been for her we would not have enjoyed cabbage with rice on New Year’s Eve. Or yesterday, when I revisited the dish so I could write up this recipe.
Two types of cabbage to choose from: regular and savoy. I swing both ways. I know Italians strongly favor the savoy, which they call verza. Yesterday I used verza; NY’s eve, regular. More or less the same result: bliss.
Like many Italian dishes, this one begins with the holy trinity: onion, celery, and carrot, chopped and sauteed in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. While the saute is in process in a covered pan on low-ish heat, next chop a chunk of the cabbage. I cook for two. So my chunk is between a half and a quarter cabbage. Chop and rinse, saving the dark outer leaves for a wash and chop. Toss them in. Those outer leaves will lend the dish deeper color.
Add the cabbage to your saute, add salt and pepper. Still on low-ish heat, cook the mix uncovered for 10-15 minutes, stirring and rolling. Add another tablespoon of olive oil, stirring and rolling occasionally. When you begin to hear to swish and chirr at the side of the pan when you roll and stir, add a couple tablespoons of water.
To the eye, the volume of the saute will decrease by half as it falls, mixes, and collapses into cookitude.
Then comes tomato puree. Not a jar of tomato puree. That’s too much. Not half a jar. That’s too much. Not even a quarter of a jar. That’s also is too much. A quarter cup will be enough to provide color and taste. Stir the mix, roll it; cover the pan.
Check back in 10 minutes. I like to see a golden color becoming dominant. Ah, the gold. If it still looks pale, maybe add a few more tablespoons of tomato. You want gold, not red. Cover and cook for 25 minutes total on low heat. But understand that you are cooking this down. Not wet. Not turgid. In between. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water. Salt and pepper again to taste. If you have a bullion cube, toss that in for good measure.
This much cabbage at our table will go with 3/4 or a full cup of brown rice. This much rice and sauce serves two in our house. But we are pigs. It’s really enough cabbage and rice for four people.
A little black pepper. Cheese? Hell no.