Years ago, when I was collecting recipes for Serves One, a friend told me about a favorite, dead-simple pasta dish: egg noodles combined with an equal quantity of sautéed cabbage. I’ve made that ever since when in the mood for a comforting meal, sometimes just for myself. It’s always struck me as being more Eastern European than Italian.
Recently I sautéed an onion with the cabbage, adding toasted fennel seeds and diced soppressata. Most important, I used a chef-invented pasta variety from Campania with more tooth–a shape called scialatielli (“ruffle,” maybe). Suddenly the dish seemed more Italian.
This is the season when cabbage abounds and if you buy one, you’re probably going to need more than one way to use it. This satisfying pasta dish is one of the best solutions. If you’re cooking for one or two, you could also use a cole slaw mix successfully.
Fall is also prime time for kale and other dark, nutrient-rich greens. Every fall I make ribollita with Tuscan kale and I also love to use the large, corrugated, inky leaves in a winter pesto. Browned, caramelized onions and walnuts give this pasta sauce a glorious earthiness.
Gardeners know Tuscan kale as lacinato kale and, in Tuscany itself, it is called cavolo nero (“black cabbage”). Whatever name you choose, it is truly wonderful. If regular green kale is what you find at the market, it will work well too.
This recipe combines Italian heart with the Eastern European genius for cooking with cabbage.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 6 cups shredded green cabbage
- 1 large red onion halved or quartered and cut crosswise in thin slices
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed crushed and toasted
- 2 ounces soppressata or Genoa salami cut in short strips
- Kosher salt or sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces scialatielli pasta or other short shape
- 1 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano
Melt butter in a large saute pan and tilt to distribute it. Add cabbage and onion. Cook over medium-high heat until ingredients reduce in volume and start to turn golden. Stir well and continue to cook until cabbage and onion start to caramelize, with some of the cabbage’s green still visible. Stir in soppressata and fennel seed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, fill a large saucepan about two-thirds full of cold water and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt. Add pasta, stir well and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, drain pasta and add to the skillet (if not large enough, do the reverse, returning drained pasta to saucepan and adding cabbage mixture).
Over low to medium heat, stir to mix cabbage mixture with pasta, adding some of the pasta water if needed. Stir in half of the cheese and top servings with the rest.
(adapted from Piatto Unico, by Toni Lydecker)
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound dried penne, pici noodles or fettuccine
- Tuscan Kale and Walnut Pesto recipe follows
Fill a large saucepan about two-thirds full with cold water. Bring to a boil and add a small handful of salt. Cook the pasta until al dente (up to 22 minutes for pici; more like 10 minutes for fettuccine).
Meanwhile, heat half of the pesto over low heat in a large skillet. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and turn it into the skillet. Mix well, adding more pesto (you may not need it all) and as much cooking water as needed for a saucy consistency; cook for a minute or two to blend the flavors.
- 1 large onion
- 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large bunch Tuscan kale
- ¼ cup walnuts or pecans
- 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
Halve the onion, end to end, and cut in thin slices. Roughly chop the garlic. Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Saute the onion over medium-high heat until it softens and turns golden brown, about 15 minutes; reduce the heat if there seems to be a danger of burning. Stir in half of the garlic during the last few minutes of cooking.
Meanwhile, fill a large saucepan about two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil. Strip off the kale leaves, discarding the stems. Shred by cutting crosswise with a large knife (you should have about 8 packed cups). Add the kale to the boiling water and cook until wilted and tender, 3 to 5 minutes (depending on the size and freshness of the kale). Drain and cool.
Combine the kale, onions and garlic, the remaining raw garlic, walnuts, salt, pepper and remaining ¾ cup olive oil in a food processor bowl. Puree until the mixture is homogeneous but the texture is slightly chunky.
Scrape the pesto into a bowl. With a spatula, fold in the cheese. Chill or freeze any of the pesto you don't use immediately.