Lighter Stuffed Cabbage Rolls {Cavolo Ripieno}

We’ve just experienced an uncommon cold spell here in Florida with night temperatures dropping close to freezing. This weather may not impress folks from the north, but for Floridians, it is cold. It is funny, but it is pretty obvious to pick out the seasonal residents from up north from the permanent Florida residents on these cooler days.

The folks from up north are walking around in shorts and t-shirts while Floridians are bundled up in quilted coats, gloves, and scarves. Although I personally prefer warm beach days to those where I have to bundle up in layers and need a coat, when the temperatures drop I can finally prepare my cold weather dishes that I crave every winter but rarely get the chance to make here in Florida. For that reason alone, I am happy to embrace cooler weather. It is during this annual cold spell each winter that I get to prepare heartier dishes like stews, polenta, slow-cooked roasts, and family favorites like these cabbage rolls.

Growing up, my Mother had a close friend that owned a German restaurant, and she picked up a few recipes from her including cabbage rolls. My family loved cabbage rolls, so we had them at least once a month during the colder months. When I lived in Italy, I was surprised to find that Italians also prepare their version of cabbage rolls, or cavolo ripieno, very similar to the ones I grew up eating.

My traditional stuffed cabbage recipe uses ground pork and sausage, but in my effort to transform my dishes into healthier versions this year, instead of pork, I used a combination of ground turkey and Italian turkey sausage. I find that the ground turkey that contains both white and dark meat has more flavor than the form made just with breast meat, so I prefer the mixed grind in this recipe.

This is a hearty recipe that can be prepared ahead of time, even cooked ahead of time and then reheated before serving. These cabbage rolls also freeze really well, so I usually make a double batch and freeze half. Simply thaw frozen cabbage rolls fully before baking, or it will take hours to cook them.

I prefer chunks of tomatoes with my cabbage rolls, so I use whole tomatoes that I crush with my fingers, but if your family prefers it, you can use a tomato puree. One of my favorite parts of this dish are the cabbage leaves that I layer on top of the cabbage rolls before baking that become infused with tomato flavor and become soft and browned, so do not skip this step! I like to serve these cabbage rolls in shallow bowls on top of a scoop of garlic mashed potatoes along with a mixed green salad. Crusty bread is also great to scoop out every drop of the tomatoes.


Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 

Lighter Stuffed Cabbage Rolls {Cavolo Ripieno}

Lighter Stuffed Cabbage Rolls {Cavolo Ripieno}

Yield: Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 50 minutes


Tomato Sauce:

  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Medium Onion, Finely Chopped
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
  • 3 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Basil
  • 3 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Parsley
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 1 (28 Ounce) Can Whole Tomatoes Crushed By Hand
  • 3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 1 Cup Water

For The Cabbage Rolls:

  • 1 Large Head Of Cabbage
  • 1 Pound Ground Turkey (See Notes Above)
  • 1/2 Pound Turkey Sausage, Removed From Casings
  • 1 Cup Cooked Brown Rice (Or Farro or Barley)
  • 1/2 Medium Onion, Finely Chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Parsley Leaves
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 2 Large Eggs


  1. For the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. 
  2. Add the onion, and cook, stirring often until translucent, about 5 minutes. 
  3. Add the garlic, and cook another minute or two until fragrant.
  4. Add the basil, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, tomatoes, tomato paste and water.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes or until thickened.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  7. To prepare the cabbage rolls while the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
  8. Remove the larger leaves from the cabbage, (about 12 to 14) and drop them in batches into the boiling water.
  9. Cook until wilted, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  10. Drain, and place the leaves on a kitchen towel.
  11. Use a sharp knife to thin the large vein of the cabbage leaves.
  12. Cut the remaining small cabbage leaves from the core and boil 4 minutes, drain and set aside.
  13. In a mixing bowl, place the ground turkey, sausage, brown rice, onion, parsley, salt, pepper, and eggs.
  14. Mix with your fingers until blended.
  15. Lay the cabbage leaves onto a cutting board, and place a small handful of the stuffing mix on top of each.
  16. Fold in the sides of each leaf, then roll firmly.
  17. Continue to fill and roll all of the blanched cabbage leaves.
  18. Spoon 1/3 of the sauce over the bottom of an oven-proof casserole dish large enough to hold all of the rolls.
  19. Lay the cabbage rolls on top of the sauce.
  20. Place the small leftover cabbage leaves over the cabbage rolls.
  21. Spoon the rest of the sauce over the cabbage, cover and bake 45 minutes.
  22. Uncover, and bake another 30 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned.
  23. Serve & enjoy!

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