Cabbage, Italian Sausage & Orzo Soup With Parmesan

March 15, 2021
28 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Gerri Williams.
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

Looking for an easy-to-make, rib-sticking soup to warm you from the inside-out? This super cozy rendition brimming with cabbage, Italian sausage, and orzo is just the ticket. It’s layered with umami from the bottom-up—from aromatics sautéed in rendered sausage fat, to a rich, savory broth made from caramelized tomato paste, parmesan rinds, and chicken stock, to even more parmesan that's grated over the soup before serving. In under 30 minutes, you’ll have a completely comforting, soul-satisfying meal. Leftovers, should you have any, make for swell lunches and dinners throughout the week.

A few notes: I usually reach for tender, frilly-edged Napa or savoy cabbage when making this soup. If using regular green cabbage, simmer it for about 10 minutes before adding the orzo in Step 3 since it’ll take a little longer to soften. Change up the types of sausage, too—virtually any type of uncooked pork, chicken, or turkey sausage will work nicely. The same flexibility extends to the orzo: reach for other small pasta shapes, such as ditalini or mini farfalle, or rice, such as Arborio or basmati. If using rice, increase the simmering time in Step 3 by about 10 minutes before adding the sausage.

What You'll Need
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (mild or spicy), bulk or with casings removed
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 large Napa or Savoy cabbage (about 2 pounds), trimmed, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 4 cups chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium store-bought
  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup orzo
  • 1 or 2 Parmesan rinds
  • 1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  1. Heat olive oil in a large thick-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sausage in a single layer and brown, breaking it into bite-sized pieces and stirring occasionally, until it is just cooked through and no longer pink. Remove with a slotted spoon, leaving the rendered fat in the pot.
  2. Add the onion and several big pinches of kosher salt and black pepper. Saute for about 4 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for another 1 minute. Lower the heat, and add the tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pot, until it caramelizes and starts to change in color from bright to brick red, about 3 minutes. (Don't rush this step; the caramelized paste adds depth and complexity to the soup.)
  3. Add the cabbage, chicken stock, water, orzo, Parmesan rind(s), and another big pinch or two of salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally to ensure nothing sticks. Add sausage and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes longer, stirring and scraping occasionally, until the orzo and cabbage are tender. Remove and discard rinds.
  4. At the end, add parsley and red wine vinegar. Adjust salt and acidity to taste. Serve the soup in bowls, topped with grated Parmesan.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Kim Watt
    Kim Watt
  • Cheryl
  • AntoniaJames
  • glammie
  • Carry Mattocks
    Carry Mattocks

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

33 Reviews

littlemissdeja October 5, 2022
I made this for supper tonight and it was absolutely delicious. Because our garden has been bountiful and we have so much produce, I roasted bite sized pieces of a buttercup squash and a zucchini in the oven, and added them to the soup at the end - the sweet squash paired beautifully with the sausage and cabbage. I also doubled the chicken broth because we wanted more broth for all the extra veg. It’s a perfect autumn and winter soup and will be a part of my regular meal rotation! Thank you!
Sheltie_Mom_4ever March 27, 2022
I had to make myself stop eating this delicious and comforting dish! It was just perfect and filling. I followed the recipe pretty much to the dot, except I didn’t have the Parmesan rind, and I used regular cabbage. This detail seems minute, but don’t skip the red wine vinegar! It really brings the recipe together. I spurge on red wine vinegar and am always glad I do whenever a recipe calls for it. IMO, it makes a big difference. Thank you for sharing this much more sophisticated version of cabbage, tomatoes, and sausage.
Kim W. February 4, 2022
I’ve made this a few times now and this is definitely a keeper. I’ve been subbing two cups (give or take) of diced potatoes (waxy ones) instead of the orzo. Makes it a bit hardier and gluten free if that’s a need.
EmilyC February 10, 2022
So glad to hear this, Kim! Glad you've found a spot for it in your rotation.
Dana January 30, 2022
We loved this soup! I did make some changes based on having only green cabbage and liking things more flavorful. Plus, my sausage was vegan chorizo and it was only 13oz as opposed to a whole pound. I don't like boiled cabbage, so after sautéing the onions and garlic (which I added a 3rd clove to), I sautéed the cabbage, too. Then I used whatever was left in an open bottle of red wine as one of the cups of liquid - and the rest was better than bullion broth. I also thought it needed something, so I added about 1.5 tsps of cumin when it was simmering. I increased the orzo to 1 cup because we like it hearty and there was less than a pound of sausage. The result was GREAT!!
NXL October 24, 2021
Great flavors! Better than I expected. The only change I made was in the cooking time for the pasta.
Cheryl October 20, 2021
Very good and even better on the second day. I made it vegan with vegan Italian sausage. Added a can of cannelini beans for protein. Next time I would saute onions.
Cheryl October 24, 2021
It definitely tastes the best the following day(s).
Jpotts May 30, 2021
A must for your regular rotation! This soup is delicious, hearty and so easy to make. I crave this soup - even in the summer. This soup brings on such layered flavors in such a short time - using tomato paste to enhance the umami brings this soup to life. Good red wine can also stand in for red wine vinegar. Well done, EmilyC!
AntoniaJames February 1, 2021
I made this in my Instant Pot pressure cooker this evening, with a few tweaks. (I've adapted a quite similar recipe by Giuliano Hazan, Marcella's son, also with success.) Dialed back the sausage considerably for health and environmental reasons; 1/2 pound was plenty - I let it brown for quite a long time, creating a dark fond that I deglazed with a bit of stock, and then cooked down before adding the tomato paste. Didn't add the parmesan rind and it tasted just fine without it. ;o)
Alison January 25, 2021
A good winter soup/stew--tasty, filling, warm. As the author says, it is adaptable, too. I didn't have cabbage, so used lacinato kale. My sausage was a little bland, so I added a little bit of ground fennel and rubbed sage. I haven't used Parmesan rinds very much in the past, but I have to say that the flavor they impart to the broth is amazing.
EmilyC January 27, 2021
Hi Alison -- so glad you tried and liked this, and yes to parm rinds! I keep a bag in my freezer for soups like this. Thanks for your note!
Karen E. December 14, 2020
Made this soup for the 2nd time this fall. It’s simple with ingredients that I usually have on hand. That being said, it’s tasty, flavorful, and filling. I used a half-pound each of spicy and mild Italian sausage, and agree with taking the time with tomato paste. I served it with crusty bread and Brie cheese!
EmilyC January 27, 2021
Sorry I missed your comment, Karen -- so happy to hear that you've made this twice! Thanks for your comment!
glammie November 12, 2020
I wish I had read this recipe carefully before starting it. I read sausage, cabbage and orzo and pulled out my Dutch oven. It's not a 'bad' recipe but there's isn't anything compelling about it. It's basically braised cabbage with hot Italian sausage. It's got the elements of good flavour - sausage, tomato paste and the parma rinds but I can't see myself making it again. It's something to make if you're short on groceries a few days before payday (the ingredients are items one should always have on hand) or if you're trying to lose weight quickly (very low carb). Out of five, I'd give it a three.
Renee B. October 19, 2020
Looks and sounds delicious. We have one in the family who can't eat tomatoes or tomatillos in any form. Can you think of a substitute or do you think omitting the tomato paste would ruin it?
EmilyC October 20, 2020
Hi Renee -- I think you can omit the tomato paste with good results. Definitely reach for a good Italian sausage because so much flavor comes from it -- and just taste and adjust the seasoning of the broth as you go. I might go 6 cups chicken stock to 2 cups of water as well, just to bump up the flavor. Hope this helps!
Renee B. October 20, 2020
Thank you! I’ll give it a try.
Carry M. October 17, 2020
I made this tonight and was so delicious and hearty. Alot of the flavor come from the sausage, ao be sure and buy a good quality and flavorful sausage. Also buying a larger size orzo will result in more bulk and a thicker soup.
EmilyC October 17, 2020
So glad you made and liked this, Carry! Thanks for your note!
Hn October 16, 2020
Wow... this was perfect. Followed the recipe exactly and it was a lovely, filling soup. My local farm market had everything required to make it fresh and local (Orzo and tomato paste aside)
EmilyC October 17, 2020
Wonderful! So glad you liked it, Heidi!
Sarah L. October 6, 2020
This was delicious and came together quickly. Will be putting it in my regular rotation!
EmilyC October 7, 2020
Great to hear -- thanks Sarah!
Audrey October 6, 2020
Delicious soup, and super easy to make! Favorited. Thank you!
EmilyC October 7, 2020
Wonderful, thanks Audrey!
Maureen S. October 5, 2020
Delicious soup - definitely a keeper. I made the amount suggested, but added 1 cup of red wine (it tasted a little bland to me without that) more garlic plus a tablespoon of dried dill. Also added more broth than called for. We had seconds! When I was ready to store the remaining soup in our fridge, the liquid had been absorbed by the orzo, so when I serve it again I will add more broth. I am not partial to really thick stew-like soups. I think next time I make this soup I'll cut the amount of orzo in half, or maybe not even use the pasta.
EmilyC October 5, 2020
Hi Maureen -- so glad you liked it! Thanks for trying it and reporting back!
mich October 6, 2020
Amen! Whenever I make soup, I keep whatever starch I made (pasta, rice) in a bag in the fridge - so when I serve the soup fresh or as leftovers, I just grab a handful or 2 (or leave the bag at the table for others to serve themselves) and put it into the soup shortly before serving. I don't like soggy pasta or the broth sucking up all the mixins, either!! Plus I can change up the starch - some nights we want rice in the soup, other nights small shells or even egg noodles. I swear by it.
Kyle I. October 12, 2020
I do the same. Keeps the same soup more interesting for round 2 and 3.
Jill F. October 4, 2020
It sounds so good! I have an issue with "gas" producers, so no cabbage.
Might you suggest an alternative please?
(I find that fennel works well as a substitute for onions.)
glammie October 4, 2020
Tough to make cabbage soup without cabbage. Maybe a different recipe. This is a good one:
EmilyC October 5, 2020
Hi Jill: I think escarole would work nicely here!