We had friends from work over this week for dinner and I went with an Italian theme, relying heavily on recipes I love from Giorgio Locatelli. With a cookbook collection approaching 1,000 books, his book remains my #1 go-to inspiring book. We’ve used it for cookbook clubs, I’ve leveraged his recipes heavily for catering gigs, and every single recipe turns out to be pure gold. One of our first courses was his Mondeghini (Stuffed Cabbage) served with stinging nettle risotto. Nettles are just starting to be available in Seattle this time of year, and this recipe is one of my favorites.
Remember to use gloves, especially when touching the nettle stalks…that’s where you will get stung. Once the nettles hit heat, either blanching or frying, the sting disappears and leaves you with a really green, springtime flavor. We’re thrilled when we see nettles at the Farmer’s market, because this risotto is what comes next.
The Mondeghini are something I tried at Locanda Locatelli when I was in London a few weeks ago on business. They were our favorite course we tried from the menu so I was dying to make them at home. I’ve adapted the mondeghini recipe slightly because I like it less bready than the recipe calls for. The stuffed cabbage is a little time consuming to make, as you have to form little golfball-sized sausage balls and then individually wrap them in blanched savoy cabbage leaves. Once you get the technique down it gets faster. It’s all about how adept you are at cupping Giorgio’s balls. Cup-n-twist, ladies…cup-n-twist. But be gentle...
Mondeghini (Stuffed Cabbage)
1 large Savoy cabbage
350g sliced white bread, crusts cut off (Note: I only used 200g to make it less bready)
175 ml milk
400g good quality plain pork sausages, skin removed
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped (I used 6 because—hello, it’s garlic. More is better)
Sprig of sage, finely chopped
Sprig of rosemary, finely chopped (Ok, screw subtlety…..I used 4 sprigs of rosemary and 6 of sage. It could still have taken more. The herbs REALLY came through in the restaurant version)
1 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
½ glass of white wine
Salt and pepper
Discard the outer leaves of the cabbage and choose 8 fairly large inner ones. Blanch them in boiling salted water until just soft then drain, rinse under cold running water and pat dry.
Soak the bread in the milk. Put the skinned sausages in a separate bowl and mix with the garlic, sage, rosemary and parmesan. Squeeze the bread and add to the sausage mixture. Season and roll into 8 balls, each about the size of a golf ball.
Lay the cabbage leaves out flay and cut out the stalks with a sharp knife. Now you need to make little balls of cabbage-wrapped sausage meat. To do this, hold a cloth in one hand, put a cabbage leaf on top, and then a ball of the sausage mixture in the center. Close your hand so that the cabbage wraps itself around the sausage meat. Turn your hand over and, with the other hand, twist the bottom of the cloth so that it squeezes the cabbage into a tight ball. Unwrap the cloth and trim the cabbage of any excess, leaving enough to enclose the sausage meat completely. Repeat with the rest of the sausage meat and cabbage leaves. If not using straight away, keep in the fridge.
After you have started making the risotto (recipe below) and cooked for about 10 minutes, begin cooking the Mondeghini.
Heat a pan large enough to hold all the cabbage balls. Put in the vegetable oil and add the cabbage balls, smooth side down. Cook over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, turn them over, then add the white wine. Cover with a lid and cook for another 15 minutes, very slowly, adding a little water (or chicken stock if you have it) if the liquid evaporates. Remove the cabbage balls from the pan and keep warm. Let the liquid in the pan reduce a little, then add the butter to make a slightly creamy sauce. Take the pan from the heat.
Spoon the finished risotto onto a serving plate and top with two cabbage balls. Garnish with fried nettle leaves.
2 handfuls of young nettle leaves
2.5 litres good vegetable stock
1 onion, chopped very, very finely
400g vialone nano rice
125ml dry white wine
salt and pepper
For the mantecatura:
about 75g cold butter, cut into small dice
about 100g finely grated Parmesan
- Blanch the nettles in boiling salted water for 30 seconds, drain and put into a food processor. Pulse to a purée, adding a little water if the mixture isn't moist enough.
- Bring the pot of stock to the boil close to where you are going to make the risotto, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. Cook the onion and rice in exactly the same way as in the previous recipe. Carry on cooking for about 15-17 minutes, adding the stock continuously. After about 10 minutes, add the nettle purée and bring the risotto back up to temperature. Carry on cooking for another 5-6 minutes until the rice grains are soft, but still al dente, adding more stock as necessary. The risotto shouldn't be too soupy when you add the butter and Parmesan at the end, or it will become sloppy. The risotto is ready when the grains are soft, but still al dente.
- Turn down the heat, to allow the risotto to rest for a minute, then, for the mantecatura, using a wooden spoon, vigorously beat in the cold diced butter and finally the Parmesan, making sure you shake the pan at the same time as you beat. Season to taste and serve.
If you dont have this book yet, GET IT. You won't be sorry.