For once I’m going to disagree with my wife (really, this is a first). Stuffed Cabbage with Farro, Mushrooms and Chicken Livers may not be quick, but it is easy. One foot in front of the other, that’s it, then before you know it, you’re done. Hey, if you were part of the road-happy hoard who made the Bicycle Spring Rolls this past summer then stuffing your own cabbage leaves will be a snap. Crowds will acclaim you umami king–or queen,your choice–because of the amazing thing that happens when tomato and liver and dried mushrooms meet over the common ground of farro, especially in a beautiful package. There’s an olfactory tug of war in your brain as it tries to discern whether what you’re tasting is sweet or savory. It doesn’t matter. Trust me on this, it tastes good.
If there’s any difficulty in this dish at all, it’s on my end. I love chicken livers, even when, as in this recipe, they’re more a flavoring than the center of attention. But each time I encounter them from behind the lens I pray that it will be the last. Documenting how to trim and clean them raw (a simple proposition–snip, snip, done), especially at the kind of close range I favor, risks making novice liver eaters think they’ve wandered into a DIY Abdominal Surgery site.* Shooting cooked ones isn’t much better–close up, at best, they resemble chocolate truffles; at worst, they… well, we won’t go there. The alternative is to photograph them at such distance that they blur into anonymity. In the introduction to A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME Stephan Hawking says that he was told that every mathematical formula in his manuscript would cost him half his readership (a sly reference to Zeno’s Paradox, no doubt). I suspect a similar rule obtains for food blogs. Every photo with raw liver costs a blog half its readership. Well, too bad, we’re going where Stephan Hawking feared to tread–there is not ONE raw liver photo, but TWO. I like chicken liver too much to just erase them. Enjoy. Ken
*For the record, I’m in favor of people getting past their squeamishness. If you eat this stuff–or think you might–man up about it. On the other hand, the dish is easily made vegetarian–skip the livers altogether.
Stuffed Cabbage with Farro, Mushrooms and Chicken Livers
- 1 head Savoy cabbage, about 1¾ pounds
- Kosher salt
- ¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 cup dried farro
- 1 cup chicken stock or vegetable stock or water
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, cut into ¼-inch dice, about ¾ cup
- ¾ pound mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed if necessary and cut into ¼ inch dice
- 8 ounces organic chicken livers, cleaned and cut into 1 inch pieces
- ½ cup sherry, marsala or white wine
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus additional for garnishing,
- 2 cups tomato sauce (Use your own, or our Simple Tomato Sauce.)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the whole cabbage, weight it down with a sieve and something heavy to keep the head submerged. Cook 5 minutes or until the outer leaves are tender. Scoop out the head and put it on a sheet pan with sides to collect excess water. Using kitchen shears, snip off the tender outer leaves. Return the head to the pot and repeat until you have 16 leaves. Reserve the remaining cabbage for another use.
- Soak the porcini in ½ cup warm water for 15 minutes. When they are tender and pliable, transfer them to the counter and check to be sure they aren’t sandy, particularly at the bottom of the stem. Remove any sandy bits and discard. Chop the mushrooms.
- Pour the porcini soaking water into a pot, taking care not to disturb the layer of grit and sediment in the bottom of soaking container. If you’re apprehensive, simply pour the soaking liquid through a coffee filter and then into the pot. Add the stock or water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Put the dried farro in a strainer and rinse under running water.
- Add the rinsed farro and a pinch of salt to the pot with boiling stock, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the farro is just tender and all the liquid has been absorbed, about 25 minutes. It should be slightly underdone. Allow to cool.
- Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped raw mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until tender and they’ve released their juices, about 5 minutes. Season the livers with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and add the livers. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Add the porcini and the wine and let the wine reduce to a glaze. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Add the liver mixture, parsley and grated cheese to the farro and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cut the thick cores from the cabbage leaves and lay them out on a cutting board. Put a heaping ¼ cup of the farro mixture in the center of each leaf. Roll the leaves, tucking in the sides and transfer to a baking dish, flap-side down. The dish should be large enough to hold 16 cabbage bundles. Cover the dish with a round of parchment, tucking in the edges, and bake 20 minutes.
- Remove and discard the parchment paper. Spoon the tomato sauce over the cabbage and bake an additional 15-20 minutes. Allow to repose for 5 minutes, sprinkle with some grated cheese and serve.
I’m not even going to pretend that this is a “quick and easy” recipe. Even for a seasoned chef, it takes a commitment. There are a number of steps that require different pots and pans. The good news is that it makes a lot, can be made ahead, the left-overs are really good and it makes you feel good.
It’s the kind of dish that takes you back to a toasty cold-weather memory with the distinctive flavor of the cabbage wrappers and the sharp contrast of the tomato sauce to a hearty meat filling. We wanted to move away from the classic Eastern European ground meat and rice combination, so we used farro, mushrooms and livers. It sounds rich, but this is an example of putting vegetables and grains at the center of the plate and using the livers as a seasoning. You can leave out the livers if they scare you, but you’ll be missing a treat.