They turned out to be as easy to work with as I had hoped – all you have to do is cut out the rib, leaving you with two beautiful half leaves that roll as easily as cloth napkins. Filling and rolling is inherently a little fiddly, but it’s worth it for these meltingly tender, beautiful mouthfuls.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic
5 to 10 juniper berries, if you have them on hand
1 pound ground pork
1/4 pound bacon (about 4 slices), diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cooked lentils, brown rice, or other whole grain, optional
1/4 cup chopped parsley, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 bunch collard greens, washed well
3/4 cup dry white wine
1.5 tablespoons Calvados or brandy, optional
Tear the bread into pieces, removing most of the crust. Place in a small bowl; pour milk over and set aside.
Chop the onion and carrot fairly small. Heat a skillet over medium heat and saute the onion and carrot in olive oil until very soft and just staring to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste; remove from heat and allow to cool.
While the vegetables are cooking, finely chop (or press) the garlic. Crush the juniper berries with the side of a knife and chop very fine. Work the bread pieces into a mush with your fingers or a fork. Use a fork to gently stir all of these into the raw ground pork, along with the bacon, egg, lentils or whole grain (if using), parsley, salt, and pepper. Try not to overwork the meat mixture or it may get tough.
Heat oven to 350.
Lay each collard leaf on a cutting board. Slice down both sides of the thick center rib to create two large leaf halves. Discard ribs.
*Note: My friend Mia suggests that cabbage rolls are easier to make if you freeze and thaw the head of lettuce before using, to wilt the leaves. Let me know if you try this!