Recently I have been thinking a lot about meatballs. From Molly Wizenberg’s search for the perfect meatball for Bon Appétit to The Traveler’s Lunchbox’s adaption of Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s beguiling recipe featuring spinach, cinnamon, almonds and candied citron, I have been reading about delicious little orbs of meat in all of my favourite venues. Although the recipes certainly peaked my interest, I struggled to find a meal composed entirely of ground mince appetising, especially sans a generous portion of noodles. However, I spotted a recipe for cabbage-wrapped meatballs in an issue of Australian Good Food magazine and soon found myself in the kitchen rolling, wrapping and saucing. My grandmother affectionately calls this dish pigs in the blanket, a recipe she has made for as long as she can remember. The version my grandmother referred to has roots in Slovak cookery and is also known by the name gołąbk.

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, Still Life with Vegetables, 1976
oil on board, 24 x 34 cm, Private collection

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas was recognized for his cubist work but spent the majority of his career concerned with the Greek landscape. He was considered one of the foremost proponents of Greek Modern Art and spent a large part of his career studying ancient Greek and Byzantine art.  Still Life with Vegetables was painted soon after Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas became a member of the Athens Academy, the highest ranking research institution in the country. In the work above, created late in his career, the curving lines of the vegetables are echoed with the loose brushstrokes used to delineate form. The painting embodies the duality often found in the art of Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, his desire to represent his subject in academic detail while embracing expressive emotion.

{Cabbage-Wrapped Meatballs}

Yield: 2 servings

8 cabbage leaves
600 grams ground beef
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large egg
1 teaspoon butter
2 shallots
½ brown onion
1 clove garlic minced
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 can diced tomato

Boil 2 cups of water and place in a large bowl. Add the 8 cabbage leaves and set aside.

In a large pot with a lid, add the ground beef, dried thyme, rosemary and parsley and cook for 5-10 minutes until the meat has browned over medium-high heat. Mix in the Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool in the large pot.

Drain the cabbage leaves and clear a work space on the counter. Mix the egg into the cooked ground beef. Divide the beef mixture among the eight cabbage leaves. To wrap the meatballs, place a cabbage leaf flat on your hand and spoon the meat into your palm. Wrap the edges of the leaf around the meat and secure with 1 or 2 toothpicks. Repeat with the remaining 7 leaves and set aside.

In the same pot used to cook the meat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and onion and cook for 4-5 minutes until golden. Add the garlic, cook for an additional 30 seconds before adding the white wine vinegar. Cook until the sharp smell of vinegar disappears, 1-2 minutes and stir in the can of tomatoes. Add the 8 meatballs wrapped in cabbage leaves to the bottom of the pot that contains the sauce and cover with a lid. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes with the lid on. Serve immediately.