One-Pot Wonders

Weeknight Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Sage-Infused Brown Butter & Walnuts

January  6, 2012
1 Rating
Photo by James Ransom
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

Test Kitchen Notes

My new favorite method for cooking cabbage and a great pasta dish. The caramelized cabbage is wonderfully meaty, the brown butter and walnuts give it a nice depth, and the sage is a nice subtle addition. Definitely an excellent recipe, but not so much for the average cook on a weeknight. —Food52

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 2-3 people, but can easily be doubled
  • 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 10 sage leaves whole; cut the remaining 5 leaves into thin shreds)
  • 2 1/2 ounces unsalted walnuts
  • 250 grams dried pasta (I used Casarecci, a short pasta similar to penne), roughly half a package of pasta
  • 1 handful Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to finish
In This Recipe
  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 3 ounces of butter to small skillet. Turn heat on burner to medium. Once butter has melted and is a lovely golden color, add 10 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 5 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 towel-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.

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In 2009, after living more than twenty years in NYC, my husband, young daughter and I packed up our lives and embarked on a grand adventure, moving to Victoria, B.C. There are many things that we miss about New York (among them ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh ravioli and New York bagels), but, I have to admit, that living in the Pacific Northwest has been pretty amazing food-wise. Now we have a yard with plum and apple trees, a raspberry and strawberry patch and a Concord grape arbor. I have a vegetable and herb garden, so I can grow at least some of our food. And we have an amazing farmer's market a block from our house. I love cooking (and eating) seasonally and locally. And it's been very rewarding introducing my daughter to cooking and eating, and teaching her where our food comes from.