Happy New Year, everyone! I realize I am a little belated in my greeting, but after finally beating the cold/flu nastiness I was saddled with over Christmas, I got smacked with the busiest week of the year at work. We’re talking 1 am alarm clocks (!), night buses, taxi debacles, 12-plus-hour workdays (I know, I used to have those regularly, but now I’m a spoiled French pâtissière), and weird break-ins at work. Let’s just say I’m hoping that 2009 gets better, because judging from the first couple of hours, I’m going to have an irritating, frustrating, tiring, frantic, and scary year.
But I’m not here to whine. Somewhere in the midst of all the hectic end-of-year activity, I had time to reflect on the new year, resolutions, and the like. Something about the new year does encourage a certain amount of renewed energy and enthusiasm, so I’m feeling pretty excited about this idea I came up with for the blog. Each month, I am going to highlight a particular region in France, with a focus on the traditional cuisine. I hope to put up at least one post a week on the featured region, be it about a dish I attempted at home, a restaurant, travel photos (when applicable), or other regional products such as cheese, wine, charcuterie, or beer. Of course I will also continue to report on my regular food adventures as well, so don’t worry, I haven’t gone completely educational on you.
For January, I have decided to start out with the cuisine of Auvergne. A mountainous region in central France which I called home for seven months in 2000 and 2001, the food in Auvergne is rustic, hearty and delicious. A stunning number of famous French cheeses are produced in Auvergne, including Cantal (one of the top-selling cheeses in France), Saint-Nectaire, and Fourme d’Ambert, just to name a few.
In my new favorite Parisian dining guide, Hungry for Paris by Alexander Lobrano, the classic Auvergnat stuffed cabbage plays a hefty supporting role. Owing perhaps to the fact that a large number of Paris’ bistros were opened by displaced residents of Auvergne, the dish features on many menus in as many different forms. I happened to have a gorgeous designer cabbage lurking in my vegetable drawer a little longer than it should, and I wanted to make something to use it up. Enter Lobrano and his mouthwatering descriptions of stuffed cabbage. Trouble is, I’ve never made stuffed cabbage before. Or even eaten it.
Rather than looking up a recipe, which would take all the spontaneity out of it, I picked up some ground meat mixture, pork and veal complete with herbs, from a butcher at the market. I decided to bulk it up with some sautéed shredded cabbage and grated Cantal. I blanched four cabbage leaves in boiling, salted water, formed oval patties out of the meat mixture, and wrapped the patties in the softened leaves. I arranged them in my oval baking dish, and stuck the whole thing in the (rather hot) oven for about half an hour.
When they came out, the cabbage had browned in a few spots and the whole thing smelled terrific. I served it with some leftover root vegetables (carrot, potato, and white beet which had been roasted with our Christmas capon) for a quick, warming, and filling meal.
Now I’d love to take a weekend trip to see the Auvergnat volcanoes covered in snow and try some stuffed cabbage in its natural habitat.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.