Braised Cabbage with Caramelized Onion and Pancetta (or Not)

October  6, 2013
0 Ratings
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

This is one of the most common go-to side for fall and winter in many Italian households. Even though my family always cooked it, this is the recipe of a cook I worked for who definitely brought to the next level.

As I am not a fan of bacon and mainly stick to a pescatarian diet, I also included instructions for a vegetarian version. Italian rolled pancetta is often flavored with spices like cloves, nutmeg and loads of pepper, so if you are skipping the pancetta or using regular bacon, go ahead and try adding the extra spices.

This recipe is great as a side to any meat, and it will taste even better if made the day before. Perfect for the holidays or for a Sunday lunch! —Valentina Solfrini

What You'll Need
  • For the Pancetta Arrotolata Version:
  • 1 Head Savoy Cabbage, weighing about 2.5 pounds
  • 2 Slices Pancetta Arrotolata (rolled), 1/2" thick and 4"x4" large
  • 3 cups Onion, thinly sliced into half moons
  • 5 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons Brown Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Salt, more or less to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Freshly ground Black pepper
  • For the Vegetarian or Unsmoked Bacon Version:
  • All of the above, except the pancetta (of course)
  • 1 pinch Ground Cloves
  • 1 Grating Nutmeg
  • 1 pinch (small) Ground Cinnamon
  1. For the Pancetta Arrotolata Version:
  2. IMPORTANT: Italian rolled Pancetta is usually spiced with cloves, nutmeg, pepper and other spices. If you cannot find this kind of flavored pancetta, use any kind of bacon you like - or skip it altogether, and consider adding the extra spices. See part 2 of the recipe.
  3. Slice all the ingredients: Slice the pancetta into small cubes and the onion into half moons. Wash and thinly shred the cabbage. Cut it in 4 wedges to make slicing easier.
  4. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the Pancetta. If you're using sweet bacon or unflavored pancetta, see the second part of the recipe (but don't add the spices yet). Fry the pancetta in the oil until it starts to get crispy, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the onion and let it sweat until traslucent, about 10 minutes. Add the sugar, half the salt, and vinegar. Let the sugar melt, then let them cook, half covered, for 15 more minutes, until they start to brown. Give them a stir every now and then.
  6. Add the cabbage, a splash of water (about 1/3 cup) and put the lid on the pan. It will look like a lot of cabbage, but it will wilt like crazy. Leave it to cook undisturbed for 10 minutes. Just make sure there is enough liquid so that it doesn't stick to the bottom.
  7. Add the pepper (and spices, if using - see the second part of the recipe) and the rest of the salt. Give the cabbage a good stir. Put the lid back on and leave them be for another 10 minutes - 5 if you like them crunchier.
  8. Finally, take the lid off and let them finish cooking for 5 more minutes, stirring every now and then. At this point, everything should be nicely flavored. Check for seasoning, and adjust to taste if necessary.
  1. For the Vegetarian or Unsmoked Bacon Version:
  2. If you are not using the kind of Pancetta flavored with all the spices, or want to stick to a vegetarian version, add the spices above. Start with a little, and add more to taste if you like spices. It should be a very subtle flavor.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • MenCanCook
  • Valentina Solfrini
    Valentina Solfrini
24 Year old Italian web dev, Graphic and UI designer who, like many designers, got seduced by food photography. I talk to way too many random people when in New York and to way too many random animals when I'm in the Italian countryside. I run, a blog about Italian, natural vegetarian cooking.

3 Reviews

MenCanCook October 20, 2013
Though this isn't an Italian household (German, instead) this dish will be a frequent side dish here. The Arrotolata version has a good texture [a bit crunchy]. It's not really sweet-and-sour, but very flavorful, and the onions are sweet and tasty. We found the moisture content to be perfect; not to dry or wet. The pancetta gives an earthy taste but seems to have gotten a bit lost. May double the amount of pancetta next time. Great job, Valentina!
Valentina S. October 20, 2013
Thank you very much for your comment, it was very helpful! Yes, the pancetta is probably a bit low, and so are the sugar and vinegar...we always liked these tastes to be more of a background for the cabbage and onions, rather than a balanced mix. To strengthen flavors, one might also add two more tbsps vinegar and use 2 tbsps sugar.

Since you're in Germany...have you tried it with smoked ham or bacon? I tried it like this one and it was awesome!
MenCanCook October 20, 2013
Not in Germany...of German descent vs Italian...
Will try the regular/smoked bacon next time, for sure. Thanks again, Valentina...