Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cabbage, Potato, and Sausage Casserole

It's cold outside around the country. Here in New Orleans it's in the high 40s, which is tantamount to blizzard temperatures in this area, and that always calls for something warm, savory, filling and delicious. Cabbage is a great winter vegetable, but not something that everyone likes. Oftentimes cabbage, cooked on its own, gives off an uncomfortable smell and, if done wrong, an unpleasant taste. If you have someone in your family who is wary of cabbage, this is the perfect dish to make them a convert.

I originally got this recipe from The Silver Spoon, an amazing cookbook for anyone interested in Italian cuisine. A lot of the recipes are basic and use only a handful of ingredients. (A personal favorite is the pork loin and grape juice recipe.) The recipe in the book was titled "Baked Savoy Cabbage". While this is a great recipe, I'm never content with following the rules so I spruced it up a bit.

The original Silver Spoon recipe for this called for cabbage, sausage, tomato paste, sausage, and cheese. I found it to be colorless (mostly red) and, sadly, watery. Like most leafy vegetables, cabbage retains a lot of water. When baked and allowed to cool some of this liquid is reabsorbed, but I found that adding potatoes gave it some substance and the red onions gave it a nice range of color.

  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 lb. of fresh (raw) sausage
  • 1-2 cups of cream
  • 5-6 small potatoes, scrubbed clean
  • shredded mozzarella, or similar cheese
  • 1 6oz. can tomato paste
  • salt
  • pepper
These are not complicated ingredients. This recipe relies heavily on the sausage carrying a lot of the spices, so make sure you have a sausage that you like. I used some of my homemade chicken sausage, which had spinach, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, and garlic. Other than that, the only spices used are salt and pepper. If you find a good store brand sausage that you like you'll be set.

Start by boiling a pot of water. While this is going, cut and core the cabbage. I always remove the leaves from the outside of the cabbage, but if you're determined to use them then by all means go ahead and keep them. Separate each layer of cabbage, reserving the tightly bound inner leaves. Wash them well using a salad spinner or by hand in the sink.

Thinly slice the red onion and the potatoes. As you can see, I used different types of potatoes. As a rule of thumb, I use whatever I have handy. In this case I had some small russets and some even smaller red potatoes. The thinner you can slice them the better: feel free to use a food slicer, mandolin, or any other piece of equipment you have. I did these by hand, mostly because dragging out the food slicer meant yet another thing to clean.

By now your pot of water should be at a rolling boil. Toss in the cabbage and blanch for about 5 minutes. You don't want to cook them completely, only soften them so they are easy to deal with and help bring some of that bright green color out. Empty into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to drain.

Heat a pan with some oil. I have a wonderful little oil mister I picked up from Williams-Sonoma that allows me to mix some herbs with the oil to give it a little flavor. (This bottle has rosemary and crushed red pepper.) Give the pan a good spray, then remove the sausage from the casings and cook over a medium flame for a few minutes, making sure to crumble into small pieces. Add in the entire can of tomato paste, and then fill the same can with water and empty into the pan. Mix thoroughly until a thick sauce is formed. Give it a taste -- this is a good time to add some salt or pepper or any other seasonings that might be missing from the sausage. Set aside.

Take a large, deep baking dish and coat with oil. I used my same spray oil, but you are welcome to oil a paper towel and run it along the sides. In all honesty, I don't know if this makes a difference, given the amount of liquid released while cooking but I suppose it's good practice.

We'll be constructing the casserole like a lasagna. Start with a layer of cabbage. Top it with some salt and pepper. Next, spread a thin layer of onion.

Cover this with a layer of potatoes: if you're using different types, make sure to spread them out.

Top this with a layer of sausage, and top this with shredded cheese. Repeat this whole process.

When you get to your last layer of sausage, top with more cabbage, then spread the leftover cheese on top. There is no real science to the construction of this. I found that this order (cabbage -> onions -> potatoes -> sausage -> cheese -> repeat) was easy to arrange (especially the potatoes being a "base" to spread the sausage) but feel free to do as you please. I also took the sausage and divided it into three equal portions in order to make three layers, but no pressure! It's only food: do what you like!

After everything is arranged, pour a cup or two of heavy cream (or half and half, as I used) evenly over the top. I'd shy away from milk, especially lowfat milks. You may end up with a very liquidy end product, but that's your call.

Cover and place in the oven for about 45 minutes. Use a fork or a skewer to test if it is done. Your potatoes are your indicator: if you can't easily pierce a layer of potatoes, then it needs more time. Once it is done, remove the cover and return the oven until the cheese on top begins to brown.

Anyone will tell you that for any good piece of meat you should always let it rest after it cooks to allow the meat to reabsorb some of the liquid. In much the same way, this dish is best served after it has had a chance to cool slightly. The cabbage and sausage/sauce, combined with the cream, will release a lot of liquids in the cooking process and letting it cool so the cabbage and potatoes can reabsorb those liquids makes a huge difference. This is the sort of dish that needs no sides, and makes amazing leftovers. Even cold it tastes great!

As I said, this is a great dish for people who might not like cabbage. As it cools, the cabbage absorbs the flavor of the potatoes and the sausage and ceases to taste like feet, as it often does on its own. Make sure you get a good, flavorful sausage. You're welcome to use any ground meat, but make sure you add a good amount of herbs and spices, as this recipe is pretty basic in that department.

I want this, more than anything, to be a lesson in adventure. Find a good, basic recipe, like those in The Silver Spoon, and make it your own. While we might need instructions to construct Ikea furniture there is no reason why we can't add a favorite flavor or ingredient to a recipe. My music composition professor once told me, "You can't write anything new; it's already been done. All we can do is find a new way to present it." While I don't agree with that wholeheartedly, it gives some thought to things like cooking. If being adventuresome is intimidating, think of it as just finding a new way to present something that someone has already done.


So, you had some leftover cabbage? Leftover onion? I hate wasting good ingredients, so with a few extras I decided to try making a vinegar-based coleslaw. I added some sugar (couple of teaspoons), some distilled white vinegar (about a cup and a half), minced garlic (tablespoon), crushed red pepper (teaspoon), salt (couple of teaspoons), pepper, cayenne, and dried rosemary. I tossed it together, then put it in a bag in the fridge. Over the next few days I'll be shaking this up in the bag. I promise to report back on the flavor, but so far it tastes pretty good and tangy "raw".

EDIT: For those of you wondering just how this might affect your diet, there is an estimate of the nutritional information in this dish over at Calorie Count. Keep in mind that I used chicken sausage: pork sausage is likely to have a higher fat content. Also, I used less olive oil by using a mister. You could essentially eliminate the olive oil with a non-stick pan and not oiling the casserole dish. Enjoy!


  1. I didn't know it came from the Silver Spoon! I will make this, looks good - I have made several Silver Spoon recipes and like you have also needed to "spruce them up" but it is a great cook book to use as a base and then add your own creativity on top! Nice Post!

  2. will make this today! thank you! so what is the oven temperature for baking this?

    1. I baked it on 400, covered for 30min. Then uncovered for the remaining 15min. Topped it with parmesan which made it have a nice slight crunch.

  3. This dish was soooo good and filling!!

    I did quite a bit variations just to suite my palate a lil more. I used white onion and sweated them for a few minutes with garlic, I seasoned the blanching water with salt and a little sugar, I seasoned the cabbage and potatoes. I gave the potatoes a kick with a seasoning blend that also had cayenne pepper and it really put a nice layer of spice to the dish. I did not have tomato paste so I used pasta sauce instead. I also just sliced my Kielbasa sausage, no grounding. I omitted the heavy cream entirely didn't have it and felt it was unnecessary calories anyway. :-)

    It was aaamaaazzzinnnggg. Im glad I found another use for cabbage. Will make again.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! It's a fun recipe to play with.