Here’s my first cabbage — isn’t it beautiful? There are three more out there starting to head up, and this is one of those items I wish I had a more traditional plot for — I can see the glory that would be a couple of long rows of pretty cabbages. I think next year I can grow a few more, but the hoarder in me wishes I could grow a whole winter’s worth of lovely cabbages and then store them in the root cellar I don’t have. As I told a girlfriend the other day, I think deep down inside I’m an 80 year old immigrant granny trying to feed everyone out of the backyard.
So I was looking at this cabbage and after I pulled off those big outer leaves, I just couldn’t bear to throw them away. I’ve been slightly obsessed with stuffed leaves this summer. It was Mark Bittman who started it all with this lovely recipe for stuffed chard that he ran on his site. I still haven’t made that exact recipe yet, but I’ve become slightly obsessed with wrapping various saffron rice mixes with leaves from my garden: chard, Galician kale, and now, savoy cabbage.
I also never really understood the point of stuffed cabbage before. It’s one of those recipes like braised lettuce and peas, which I first read about in a couple of French cookbooks, that didn’t make sense until the garden — just as the peas come in the lettuce is also glorious. In that context, of course you’d cook the two together, and what a lovely surprise. So here I was with eight gorgeous cabbage leaves, and some leftover pork braised in milk in the fridge that I was getting bored with reheating. So I cooked up a batch of saffron rice — not risotto but basmati with saffron. I reheated the pork and shredded it up in a big bowl, when the rice was done I mixed in what seemed like a good mix, about half and half I suppose. It needed a little more color so I chopped up some Principe Borghese tomatoes from the pile I was using for salsa and threw those in as well. It was pretty. It smelled good. Next I blanched the cabbage leaves, then started rolling.
I have these funny little plastic trays from that winter after Patrick died when I ate so much frozen lasagne and mac-and-cheese. I kept them because they’re the same size as these ceramic bakers I bought when I first moved up here (bakers Patrick called “tragic single-chick dishes” which makes me giggle every time I pull them out). It took me a while to learn that it’s easier to vacuum seal things after they’re frozen than before, but I often use these to freeze dinner-sized portions, so that’s what I did with the stuffed cabbages. I did four of these, froze them, then this morning I pulled them out of the freezer and vacuum packed them.
So now I’ve got four meals all set to go, tucked away in the freezer. I suppose if you don’t enjoy puttering around in the kitchen, this would seem like a total waste of time — but for me it was all part of the larger creative project that is my garden. I was joking with my Milk Lady the other day that I could probably have written two more novels with the creative energy I’ve spent on that back garden, but it’s been a really compelling project these past five years. And there’s such pleasure in figuring how not to waste anything, how to make something interesting out of what I’ve got rather than starting with some recipe, then shopping for the things to make it. And essentially, I just like making things. Learning to roll stuff in leaves has been fun. Learning to grow a cabbage was fun. Watching something I’d imagined come to fruition is the whole point, whether it’s in my garden or downstairs at my writing desk.
And besides, summer is over now, the kids have gone back to LA, it’s raining a beautiful slow soft soaking rain today which reminds me that winter is bearing down upon us, and all of us writers here in my little town will be digging in, taking advantage of the cold and the dark to get back to work. It’s my other project for today — pulling out the manuscript that’s gone feral over the past four months and getting back on track.