These cabbage rolls are a winter specialty known as arambašici in their home of Sinj, a town near the Dinaric Alps on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Traditionally, this casserole of stuffed cabbage leaves is made from a whole head of cabbage that has been prepared as sauerkraut. Each sauerkraut leaf, or as in this recipe cabbage leaf, is stuffed with beef, pork and bacon, and flavored with lemon zest, onion, garlic, cloves and cinnamon. Each roll-up is separated from the other with pieces of pršut (Croatian prosciutto) and smoked tongue.
Arambašici can be made with fresh cabbage leaves or grape leaves, too. My recipe uses fresh cabbage, which is the easiest to find and is what a cook from Sinj would use in the summer. Many cooks also like to make the casserole in the evening and then reheat it the next day, and you should consider doing that as it is delicious.
The casserole cooks a long time so the meats are very tender and the cabbage leaves become silky. The smoked bacon, smoked pork, smoked tongue, and prosciutto can all be picked up at the deli counter of most supermarkets.
Dalmatian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 4 hours
Yield: 20 to 26 rolls, or about 6 servings
– 1 large green cabbage (about 2 3/4 pounds), central core removed
– 1 1/4 pounds boneless beef neck meat or beef chuck, finely chopped
– 5 ounces smoked bacon (preferably) or lean slab bacon, finely chopped
– 2 ounces beef fat (suet), finely chopped
– 6 ounces boneless pork shoulder or neck meat, finely chopped
– 2 large onions, chopped
– 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
– Grated zest from 1 lemon
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
– 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 3/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or beef fat for greasing
– One 4-inch-long beef marrow bone (optional)
– 1 ounce smoked pork (any cut), finely chopped
– 2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced into strips
– 2 ounces smoked tongue (optional), thinly sliced into strips
– 1 cup water and more as needed
Heat the oven to 300 F.
Remove and discard any of the outermost leaves of the cabbage that are blemished. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt and plunge the whole cabbage in and cook until the leaves can be peeled away without ripping, about 10 minutes. Drain well and, when cool enough to handle, separate the leaves carefully, setting them aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the beef, bacon, suet and pork. Add the onions, garlic, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands.
Arrange a cabbage leaf in front of you with the stem end closest to you. Place 2, 3 or 4 tablespoons (depending on the size of the leaf) of filling on the end closest to you, then roll away once, fold in the sides and continue rolling away until you get a nice, neat package.
Continue with the remaining cabbage leaves. Arrange the cabbage rolls side by side, seam side down, in a lightly greased 13- x 9- x 2-inch casserole (you may need to use two casseroles), making sure you leave some room for the beef marrow bone. Sprinkle the chopped smoked pork over the cabbage rolls.
Place the prosciutto and smoked tongue slices (if using) between the cabbage rolls. Pour the water over the cabbage rolls and cover with aluminum foil. (The casserole can be refrigerated at this point to bake later.)
Bake until the cabbage rolls are very soft, slightly blackened on top and bubbling vigorously, about 4 hours.
Serve hot or let cool to room temperature and serve as an appetizer the next day.