Stuffed Cabbage with Farro, Mushrooms and Chicken Livers

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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.

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  • Servings: 16 cabbage bundles
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Stuffed Cabbage with Farro, Mushrooms and Chicken Livers

Ingredients:

  • 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.)

Directions:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Put the dried farro in a strainer and rinse under running water.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Add the liver mixture, parsley and grated cheese to the farro and mix well.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
  8. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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Jody Notes:

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.  

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39 thoughts

  1. Oh these look wonderful, even with the un-photogenic livers! I love stuffed cabbage and have made many different versions of it, but never anything as impressive as this!

  2. Love liver, from just about all animals. Unfortunately I am the only one who does in this family, with 2 haters and a vegan. Love this recipe. It wouldn’t fool them…

    • Me too, particularly duck and rabbit. There’s something incredibly indulgent about eating rabbit livers with, say, lingonberries, and washing it all down with a great bottle of red wine. Sorry to hear you’re so isolated in your liver love. Ken

  3. Dear Ken,
    this is a gorgeous recipe.
    I love chicken liver as much as you do, and all the other ingredients too are amongst my favourite.
    I definitely give it a try, and challenge my Dad (the stuffed cabbage king ;) ).
    Thank you so much.
    I wish you both a lovely day
    Lou

    • Do you know the Werner Herzog movie AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD? It’s about a conquistador and his increasingly demented quest for El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. Aguirre becomes increasingly unhinged as he and his diminishing force navigate upriver, penetrating deeper into the rainforest. Eventually he stands alone on his raft, whirling in the current, while gesturing around him and crying out (in German), “Fleisch! Fleisch!” It’s all meat! Ken

    • You’re young, your tastes will change (notice I didn’t say “mature”). In a few more years you might find yourself enjoying things you once loathed. If someone had tapped me on the shoulder in 1964 and said, “Just wait–in another two decades THE WHOLE COUNTRY will be going crazy over raw fish, including you!” I’d have responded, “Yeah, right.” Ken

  4. Good for you. Let the squeamish be damned. There are those who claim they love food but won’t eat a prawn with its head attached. Liver is delightful – I’m a liver and onions girl myself. These photos are ridiculously good – almost pornographic. In a good way. Sophie

    • Ah, Sophie, red in tooth and claw. Liver is a treat. I grew up eating liver and onions, the Irish Catholic version. It wasn’t until I was student in Europe that I realized neither liver nor religion need necessarily be intractable. I love finding liver on a menu today, but it’s increasingly rare. Ken

  5. A feast for the eyes. The combination of savoy cabbage and chicken livers is to die for. An autumn favourite. I will be trying this for sure. BTW, I recently made venison liver pate using a mincer. The kitchen looked like an abattoir, but worth it for the results, very tasty!

    • Wow! So many aficionados of liver have come out of the woodwork! Venison liver–I’m impressed (nice abattoir reference, by the way). My Texan brother hunts and generously shares his bounty, but whenever I inquire about the liver the liver he claims he losing the phone connection. Ken

  6. Liver is my absolute favourite offal, and chicken livers really are just wonderful. This recipe looks fabulous, and it will definitely be one of those that I try in the future (and I wouldn’t even think about leaving out the liver). Delightful.

    • I really like liver (especially calves or rabbit liver with a hazelnut coating sautéed in butter and evoo), but my favorite offal is sweetbreads, which we’re contemplating doing in a future post. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Ken

  7. Ken, you are a brave man, openly disagreeing with the boss in that way. Jody, your intervention at the end of the post brings some balance to proceedings. Fantastic recipe and really inspiring photography.
    Keep it going,
    Conor

    • Thanks, Conor. I’ve never been a big cabbage man, but this is a tasty way of getting your greens. Not worry about the disagreement – nothing that 5 hours of groveling won’t cure. Ken

  8. I am definitely in the camp of loving to cook and eat chicken liver (and lambs liver also). Lovely recipe. Definitely one to prepare when a friend comes over so that they can lend a hand. As the old adage goes….many hands make light work!

    • Lambs liver is almost impossible to get here. Not impossible, but very difficult and almost never seen on a retail level. When Jody purchases a whole lamb for Rialto, it doesn’t arrive with its innards. Some health department regulation. We can, at least at the restaurant level, get rabbit and–of course–duck livers, which are delicious. Ken

  9. Pingback: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Lentils / Wine Tasting Revision | Eat with Namie

  10. Amazingly bright and colourful photos! I discovered your blog while writing a post about stuffed cabbage with duck confit leftover, so I added a link to this page for helpful tips on wrapping the cabbage. Thank you so much! Your recipe sounds great. Maybe I will try it with foie gras?

  11. Pingback: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Lentils / Wine Tasting Revision | Eatwithmeİstanbul

  12. Had this for supper tonight. Delicious! Thanks so much. My (nappa) cabbage was kind of small, so I’ve stuffed the remaining filling into red peppers. Thanks again.

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