Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta

This pasta with cabbage and pancetta is the dish I’ve made the most since I came home after my week long cooking class in Southern Italy at the Awaiting Table. It the first pasta dish we made together, and I was so pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to create something so delicious.

Orecchiette Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta Sprinkled with Parmesan and Parsley

The ingredients are wonderfully simple: sweet caramelized cabbage, tender pancetta, good quality olive oil, fresh grated parmesan, and the pasta of your choice.

As with all simple recipes, the key to their success lies in the quality of their ingredients. So splurge on the real parmigiano reggiano cheese and break out the really good extra virgin olive oil. It will make all the difference in the world for this delightfully minimal pasta with cabbage.

Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta tossed with fresh grated parmesan and quality extra virgin olive oil

Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 6 oz pancetta
  • 1 head cabbage, I used half a green cabbage and half a purple cabbage
    • About 5 cups in total when chopped
  • 8 oz orecchiette pasta
  • ½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano, plus extra for garnish
  • Reserved pasta water
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Chopped parsley for garnish, optional
Whole head of cabbage with parmesan, pancetta, orecchiette and olive oil for Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta

To start, bring a medium pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Heat a large braiser or deep saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 10 minutes or until most of the fat has rendered, and the pancetta is a dark golden brown.

Pancetta cooking for Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta

While the pancetta cooks, prep the cabbage. Cut the cabbage in half and remove the tough core. Chop the leaves into postage stamp sized pieces. I used a mix of purple cabbage and green cabbage purely for aesthetic reasons. If all you have is green or purple, either one will do just fine on their own.

You’ll have around 5 cups of chopped cabbage in total once you’re finished prepping.

Chopped cabbage in a colander with parmesan, pancetta, and olive oil for Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta

After the pancetta has cooked, add 1 tbsp olive oil to the pan and add the chopped cabbage. Continue to cook over medium to medium low heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta to its boiling water (don’t forget to heavily salt the water first!) and cook according to the package instructions using the low end of the time range given.

You want the cabbage to get soft and caramelized, so much so that it almost cooks down into a jammy like sauce for the pasta. If the bottom of your pan starts to burn or you notice the mixture getting dry, just add some of the pasta water to loosen things up.

Caramelized cabbage with crispy pancetta for Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta
These guys need about 5 more minutes to get to the right consistency

When the pasta is done cooking, drain it but be sure to reserve some of the pasta water. It will be salty and starchy, perfect for coating the pasta once it’s combined with the cabbage and pancetta.

After the cabbage is soft and caramelized, add the cooked pasta and some of the reserved pasta water. I usually start with 1/4 cup and add more from there. Stir and continue to cook over medium low heat to incorporate the pasta with the cabbage and pancetta.

Caramelized cabbage with crispy pancetta and cooked orecchiette - Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta

After 2-3 minutes of cooking, everything should be well incorporated. Remove from heat then add the parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup olive oil.

Almost every single thing we made at the cooking school was finished with raw olive oil (meaning you don’t actually cook it). It retains the flavor and some of the health benefits when used raw instead of cooked. So, use the good stuff here!

Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta sprinkled with fresh grated parmesan

Stir everything together so that the olive oil and parmesan combine with the rest of the pasta to make a smooth sauce that just barely coats all the pasta and cabbage.

Serve immediately and allow everyone to garnish with extra cheese, olive oil, or parsley to their liking. In Southern Italian cooking, olive oil is used like a condiment. So do as the Italians do 🙂

Orecchiette Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta sprinkled with fresh grated parmesan

Bon appétit!

Pasta with Cabbage and Pancetta

This humble pasta is made with great with sweet caramelized cabbage, tender pancetta, and lots of good quality olive oil

Course Entree
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 oz pancetta
  • 1 head cabbage
  • 8 oz orecchiette pasta
  • ½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano plus extra for garnish
  • Reserved pasta water
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil divided
  • Chopped parsley for garnish optional

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta and heat a large saute pan over medium low heat.  Add the pancetta to the saute pan and cook for 10 minutes or until rendered and golden brown

  2. While the pancetta renders, chop the cabbage into postage stamp sized pieces and grate the fresh parmigiano reggiano

  3. After the pancetta cooks, add the cabbage plus 1 tbsp olive oil to the pan.  Cook for 20-25 minutes or until the cabbage is very soft and caramelized stirring occasionally

  4. While the cabbage cooks, boil the pasta according to the package instructions.  Drain and reserve some of the pasta water.  

  5. After the cabbage cooks, add the pasta plus 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the pan.  Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes adding more pasta water as needed

  6. Remove from heat and add the parmesan cheese and olive oil.  Stir to coat.

  7. Serve immediately with parsley, extra parmesan, and extra olive oil to garnish

Main Piazza of Spongano in Puglia, Italy
The main piazza of Spongano, where the Awaiting Table at the Castle Cooking Class takes place


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