Comforting ribs and cabbage casserole with pork spare ribs and tomatoes, baked in the oven.
Pork ribs and cabbage baked in the oven until the cabbage is soft and tender and the meat falls off the bones, this is pure comfort food, perfect for cold fall and winter days.
Gross memory: my grandma, my sister, and I eating cabbage stew and placing the fatty parts of the meat on the edge of the plate. My grandpa collecting all the cold fat bits and shoving them into his mouth. I must have been about 5 or 6, it still hunts me…
There is nothing gross about this recipe though, in fact, this cabbage recipe is one of my favorite comfort foods in winter. And it has been so cold during the last few days, it definitely qualifies as winter.
Most of the ingredients needed are common ingredients like white or green cabbage, onions, red bell pepper, tomato passata, and tomatoes.
The only thing that might need a bit of planning ahead is the pork ribs. Regular pork spare ribs or small back ribs are pretty common and just in case you cannot get hold of any smoked ribs, you could use them as well. The dish will still be delicious, but it will miss that wonderful smoky flavor.
Here in Germany, I usually have to drive a bit longer to get the smoked ribs in the Russian store or order the smoked ribs at the butchers in advance. In this case, they will smoke the ribs extra for me and I definitely have to order that about 4-5 days in advance.
I don’t know how available smoked pork ribs are where you live, but just in case they are not as common, make a note that you might have to order them in advance.
I use dried summer savory to spice the pork rib casserole, but you can use dried thyme instead.
Summer savory definitely belongs in any Romanian cabbage dish I can think of. You put in the sarmale – the Romanian cabbage rolls and in any kind of stewed cabbage recipe. It is also important for a genuine flavor when making Romanian meatballs, you can put summer savory in bean stews or bean soups and so on.
I always rub the dried summer savory between my fingers before adding it to a dish, my grandmother once told me this will help the herb release its flavor better.
I use passata di Pomodoro to make the sauce. Passata is uncooked and strained tomato puree. A substitute would be plain tomato puree (not the paste) or you can puree the same amount of canned tomatoes.
How to make?
- Slice the cabbage very finely, as finely as you can, you can even use a mandoline if you have one. Mix it with salt and let it stand for about half an hour, this will help it get softer.
- Use either a Dutch oven or another heavy-bottomed pan and oven-safe pot with a lid or sautee the vegetables in a regular pan and place them in an oven-proof dish after that.
- Saute the onion and red bell pepper in a little oil. I say a little, my grandma would have used at least ¼ cup, but I think the 2 tablespoons I use are quite fine. Add the cabbage and stew it, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes or until softer. Add some pepper and salt to taste.
- In the meantime, prepare the pork ribs by cutting them apart in single pieces. To do this you will cut between the bones using a large sharp knife.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place half of the cabbage into an ovenproof dish, Dutch oven is perfect. If you used a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot from the very beginning, remove half of the vegetables from it, arrange the ribs on top of the remaining veggies and cover with the cabbage you’ve just removed. Otherwise, layer everything in another oven-safe dish, like a casserole dish.
- Mix the tomato passata, a little hot water, chopped tomatoes, sugar, and dried herbs.
- Pour this mixture over the dish, move the cabbage a little with the handle of a wooden spoon, making some kind of holes here and there, so that the liquid can leak through.
- Cover and bake for about 1 ½ – 2 hours. It depends on how thinly the cabbage was cut, take your time and let the dish in the oven until everything is really nice and soft. Remove the lid during the last 15 minutes or so.
How to serve?
You can serve the pork rib casserole immediately or you can reheat it. In order to do that, place it in the hot oven and leave it there until heated through. If you have leftovers, you can also reheat them by placing them into a pot and reheating them on the stove. You should add a very small amount of water to keep them from catching at the bottom of the pot and stir often.
Serve the ribs and cabbage with a dollop of sour cream/smetana/Greek yogurt and white bread. Boiled potatoes would be fine as well.
More hearty cabbage and pork:
Ribs and Cabbage
- 1 kg/ 2.2 lbs white or green cabbage
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 medium onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 350 g/ 12.3 oz smoked pork spare ribs Note 1
- 350 ml/ 12 fl.oz/ about 1 ½ cups passata di Pomodoro/ tomato puree/ strained tomatoes Note 2
- 125 ml/ 4.2 fl.oz/ ¼ cup hot water
- 5 medium tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon dried summer savory or dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- fine salt and pepper to taste
- sour cream/smetana/Greek yogurt white bread or boiled potatoes to serve
- Slice the white cabbage very finely, you can use a mandoline if you like. Mix the cabbage very well with the salt and let stand for half an hour, it will soften.
- In the meantime, chop the onion finely and cut the red bell pepper into small thin slices. Prepare the smoked pork spare ribs by cutting them apart into single pieces, cutting in between the bones with a large sharp knife.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 360 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat the oil in a wide Dutch oven or another heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pan with lid.
- Saute the onion and the pepper for about 2-3 minutes. Add the cabbage and bay leaves and saute, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes or until a little softer. Add some salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove half of the cabbage from the pot. Arrange the spare ribs on top of the remaining cabbage and cover them with the cabbage you removed previously.
- Mix together the passata, 125 ml/ ¼ cup hot water, finely chopped tomatoes, summer savory, and sugar. Pour this mixture over the cabbage, move the cabbage a little with the handle of a wooden spoon, making some kind of holes here and there, allowing some of the liquid to leak through the cabbage.
- Cover the pot and bake the cabbage casserole for 1 ½ to 2 hours until the cabbage is really soft and the meat of the ribs falls off the bones.
- Serve as suggested above, either immediately or reheated, with a dollop of sour cream/smetana/Greek yogurt on top and white bread or boiled potatoes.
- Smoked pork spare ribs have to be ordered in advance at the butchers in this area. If that is the case where you live as well, make a note to order them in time. Unsmoked pork ribs can also be used.
- Passata di Pomodoro is uncooked and strained tomato puree. A substitute would be plain tomato puree (not the paste) or you can puree the same amount of canned tomatoes.