Weeknight Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Sage Infused Brown Butter and Walnuts

By • January 6, 2012 • 14 Comments


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Author Notes: I have had a love affair with cabbage, ever since I made fiveandspice's sublime Suspiciously Delicous Cabbage. Lately I have been experimenting with different methods to cook cabbage. This is my favorite way to prepare it so far. A Thomas Keller recipe gave me the idea for blanching the cabbage first, which not only reduces the cabbage cooking time but results in the cabbage having a lovely silky texture. The cold water bath is an optional step, but doing it keeps the cabbage leaves an attractive vivid green. All through the fall and winter, I have been cooking this pasta dish with cabbage and brown butter (sort of a modified Pizzoccheri), but for this contest I decided to make fried sage leaves to garnish the pasta. Making these crispy leaves infuses the brown butter with loads of sage flavor. This recipe may appear somewhat involved, but it all goes quickly and can easily be prepared for a weeknight dinner. The nuts can be toasted and the cabbage blanched ahead of time. This is not diet fare by any means, but it is bona fide comfort food perfect for a chilly wintry day. cookinginvictoria

Food52 Review: While not quite as easy as weekday might suggest, this pasta is excellent. We love the caramelized cabbage. The brown butter and walnuts give it a nice depth, the sage is a nice subtle touch but feel free to add a little more to taste. Food52

Serves 2-3 people, but can easily be doubled

  • Water and ice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 head of Savoy cabbage (approximately 12 ounces)
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
  • 1/2 ounce of garlic (about 3 medium sized cloves), finely chopped
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 15 fresh sage leaves, divided (leave ten sage leaves whole; cut into thin shreds the remaining five leaves)
  • 2 1/2 ounces unsalted walnuts
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to finish dish
  • 250 grams dried pasta (I used Casarecci, a short pasta similar to penne),. roughly half a package of pasta
  1. Fill large saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. When water is at a brisk boil, turn heat down a bit and salt the water, a teaspoon at a time, until the water has a mild, salty taste. While water is coming to a boil, remove core from cabbage and slice into 2-3 wedges. After water is salted, add cabbage wedges to boiling water, cover pot and blanche for 3 minutes. Remove cabbage wedges from pot and add to large bowl filled with a mixture of ice water and ice. Reserve blanching water. When cabbage has cooled, remove from ice and ice water mixture, dry thoroughly with some tea towels, and cut into 1 inch pieces.
  2. Bring blanching water back to a boil. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. After cabbage has cooled, add 1 ounce butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil to large skillet. Turn heat on to medium low. When oil is warm, butter has melted and is a lovely golden color and you can smell its fragrance, add cabbage slices to pan in single layer, if possible. Cabbage may splatter if it is still slightly wet. If that happens, turn heat down a bit. Let cabbage cook for about five minutes without disturbing until underside is caramelized. Watch it carefully because you don't want it to burn. It should be a lovely golden color, not blackened. When cabbage has caramelized on one side, carefully turn pieces over and continue to cook. You may have to adjust the heat, if necessary. You don't want the pieces to cook too quickly. Aim for about five minutes per side.
  3. While cabbage is cooking, add walnuts to a pie pan and place in preheated oven. After about five minutes, check on nuts. If they are starting to smell fragrant and are a beautiful golden color, remove from heat. Otherwise, give them another minute or two to finish toasting. Remove from heat. Crumble nuts if pieces look too large. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon (you may need less) olive oil to nuts, just to very lightly moisten them. Sprinkle with sea salt and reserve.
  4. After the cabbage has been cooking for about five minutes, start cooking your pasta. When blanching water has come to a rolling boil, add pasta. Keep water at a steady boil, adjusting heat if necessary. Give pasta a good stir with a ladle to make sure pasta is not sticking together.
  5. Check on cabbage. Once cabbage is caramelized on all sides and is a lovely golden color, add garlic to pan. When you can smell garlic cooking (after about 1 minute), add thyme sprig and chopped sage leaves to pan. Add a ladleful or two of pasta water to pan, lower heat and keep at a simmer while pasta finishes cooking and while you prepare the brown butter.
  6. Add three ounces of butter to small skillet. Turn heat on burner to mediium. Once butter has melted and is a lovely golden color, add ten whole sage leaves to pan. Turn heat down to medium-low. Stir butter frequently, spooning butter over sage leaves. Watch carefully, you don't want the sage leaves (or the butter) to burn. After about five minutes, when sage leaves are a slightly darker green and are no longer limp, remove from butter with slotted spoon. They should have a nice crisp texture. If not, return to butter to continue cooking for another minute or two. When sage leaves have crisped, drain on paper-towl lined plate. Continue cooking butter until it is a lovely dark brown color, about another minute or two more. Remove butter from heat.
  7. When pasta is almost finished cooking and is still a bit al dente (taste it, if you are in doubt), fish pasta out of saucepan with a spider and add pasta to cabbage mixture in skillet. If there is not much liquid in the pan, add a few more ladlefuls of the cooking liquid. Raise heat to medium, and stir pasta and cabbage together so that the cabbage sauce coats the pasta. Cook for another minute or two until pasta is completely cooked and cabbage sauce has slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Put a generous amount of pasta and cabbage on each plate or in pasta bowls. Add a generous spoonful of brown butter to each serving of pasta and gently mix with tongs. Add a shower of salted walnuts, top with two crispy sage leaves, and shred Parmesan cheese over top of pasta. Spoon a little more brown butter over all.
  8. Dinner is ready! Serve with extra cheese at the table, some nice crusty bread and a dry white wine.

Comments (14) Questions (0)

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4 months ago Muse

Love savoy cabbage...will definitely give this recipe a try in the near future!

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6 months ago Ksb

Of course the ultimate cabbage/pasta combo is the northern Italian dish Pizzoccheri but I've never been able to find buckwheat pasta in the US.

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about 1 year ago Jannell McConnell

Made with rosemary instead of sage, and sans walnuts, and I think it still turned out. Also made with campanelle pasta instead of penne, and the ridges added a nice textural detail against the silkiness of the caramelized cabbage. Overall, the flavors weren't overwhelming, but that was a good thing - basically a more sophisticated, grown up version of pasta with butter sauce. Delicious!

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almost 2 years ago Goldberg

I made this as a weekend supper and broke out the finest parmesan for it. Great flavours, though I did feel there was a little too much salt, and I struggled to brown the cabbage in the directed times. Otherwise delish!

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about 2 years ago LaCeleste

Mmm! Just made this tonight - it was delicious! I didn't find the process particularly onerous, since the prep work was minimal. I loved giving the cabbage a bit of an edge by caramelizing, and the sage and butter took it to a new level. (I stuck to the original quantities of butter, and I guess you could adjust a bit downward, but I love food that allows the flavor of butter to come through as a flavoring.) Mmm!

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about 2 years ago ubs2007

Absolutely scrumptious! Flavors worked well together. My pasta turned out looking browner than the picture. LOVED the recipe, but need to save for a weekend vs weeknight meal:).

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about 2 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you so much for trying this recipe, ubs2007. So glad that you liked it! Yes, maybe I should rename this recipe Weekend Pasta, LOL. I do agree that there are a number of steps here (browning the butter, frying the sage leaves, toasting the nuts, caramelizing the cabbage, etc.) that may make this a challenging dish for a weeknight meal, but I did find that, once I had completed all of the mis en place, it all came together pretty quickly.

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about 2 years ago cookinginvictoria

Oops -- hit send too fast. Meant to also say:

That said, I hear you about preferring to make this dish on a weekend. In our house, simplicity and ease both rule when it comes to preparing most of our weekday dinners!

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about 2 years ago Hark

This was delicious. Admittedly, the directions were a little confusing to follow, and I cut the butter and oil in half, but I was shocked that my husband ate cabbage willingly.

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about 2 years ago cookinginvictoria

So appreciate your comment. It's wonderful to hear that you and your husband gave such high marks to this dish. Glad that the recipe worked just fine with less butter and oil. I did find that drizzling the browned butter on each serving, rather than mixing the entire amount with all of the pasta in the pan before plating, meant that I used less of it. Please feel free to message me or reply to this thread about what in the recipe seemed confusing to you. I am happy to amend the recipe if any of the steps are unclear. Thanks!

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about 2 years ago EmilyC

Congrats on the CP! This looks so, so good!

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over 2 years ago Sagegreen

This cabbage with all the depth of your flavors looks divine!

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over 2 years ago dickensthedog

This sounds yummy! Thanks very much.

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over 2 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Love this, cabbage is one of my favorites and this sounds perfectly delicious!