When Tom Costello, 45, thinks of comfort food, he remembers the stuffed cabbage rolls his Hungarian grandmother would let him make when he and his siblings were sick and had to stay home from school. “It seemed to work. It made us feel better,” recalls the executive chef and owner of Thyme in Yorktown Heights. Costello’s mother would drop him off at his grandmother’s house, and to keep him occupied, she’d let him help in this time-consuming family recipe. When it was time to spoon the meat mixture in the center of each cabbage leaf, fold and roll them, Costello, the baby of the family, would stand on a chair to reach the kitchen counter and help. “That was a big thing,” Costello says. “I remember the flavor of it, and the sauce. It was like a thick gravy.” His mother still makes these cabbage rolls every Thanksgiving.
1 large head of cabbage
6-8 bacon slices
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup white rice
2 lbs ground beef
salt and pepper to taste
5 Tbsp brown sugar
1 large can (27 oz) sauerkraut, rinsed well
2 large cans (46 oz) tomato juice—may not need full contents of both cans
To Prep Cabbage Leaves:
Core cabbage. Simmer cabbage in pot covered with water to soften cabbage leaves. Remove outer layer of leaves as they soften. Continue until cabbage leaves are too small for rolling. Remove hard outside core material from large leaves, to make rolling easier, and place/stack leaves on a cookie tray or large platter. Chop remaining cabbage and set aside.
Cook bacon and reserve bacon grease (Grandma says you can eat the bacon). Sauté onion in bacon grease until just soft and let cool. Parboil rice to soften and let cool.
Mix ground beef, eggs, onion, rice, and 1 Tbsp brown sugar to make cabbage stuffing in bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Do not over mix.
To Roll Stuffed Cabbages:
Roll meat mixture inside cabbage leaves (the amount of meat used depends upon the size of the cabbage leaf). Start at core end of each leaf, roll once, flip sides of cabbage leaf in and roll to end of cabbage leaf.
To Prepare Pot of Stuffed Cabbage:
Layer bottom of extra large pot with chopped cabbage set aside earlier and/or sauerkraut. Alternately layer stuffed cabbages in different directions so that stuffed cabbages do not all lay the same way. The larger stuffed cabbages should be on the bottom of pot and smaller stuffed cabbages toward top. Place more chopped cabbage and/or sauerkraut between layers, add remaining brown sugar to pot, and add tomato juice to cover stuffed cabbages. Slices of bacon can be added on top if desired. Cover pot and simmer for 1 hour. Do not stir.