Caramelized Cabbage & Pesto Pasta

October  7, 2021
1 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

In this simple pasta that’s so much more than the sum of its parts, caramelized cabbage comes together with basil pesto to create a dish full of complex, vibrant flavors. They’re an unexpected but delightful match: The pesto lifts and brightens the ultra-savory cabbage, and the cabbage adds a satisfying heartiness that’s great when you’re feeding a hungry brood (or even yourself for a few meals throughout the week). As much as I love the simplicity of a good pesto pasta, I have a hard time not making this rendition now. Happily, the whole dish comes together in about the same amount of time it takes to cook the pasta, with easy clean-up to boot.

Feel free to use your favorite homemade pesto—or take a shortcut by buying prepared pesto that’s sold in the refrigerator section of most grocery stores.

Test Kitchen Notes

It's the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we're hungry. Like, "can't-think-straight" hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner's Ready, her twice-a-month column on weeknight wonders, Emily shares simple, flavor-packed recipes that'll have a good meal on the table in no time. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 pound pasta, such as fusilli, rigatoni, or casarecce
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oil-packed anchovies (about half of a 2-ounce tin), minced and smashed into a paste with the back of knife
  • 1/2 medium green cabbage (about 3 pounds for the full head), cored, halved, and thinly sliced, about 8 cups in total
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • Kosher salt plus freshly ground black pepper
  • 7 ounces basil pesto, store bought or homemade (see author note)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or pecorino, plus more for serving
  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta; cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
  2. In a 12-inch sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add anchovies and cook until they melt into the fat, about 1 minute. Add cabbage, red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt and pepper, stirring to evenly coat the cabbage in the fat. Cook, stirring often, until the cabbage is nicely caramelized around the edges and tender, about 12 to 16 minutes, lowering the heat if the cabbage starts to stick or burn.
  3. Tip: If your pasta is done before the cabbage, toss it in a little olive oil and a splash of the cooking water and set aside.
  4. Add the pasta and pesto to the pan with the cabbage, along with 3/4 cup pasta water. Toss until evenly integrated, adding more pasta water, if needed, to thin the sauce. Add 2 teaspoons (or more) lemon juice. Toss in the cheese and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, with more Parmesan on the side.

See what other Food52ers are saying.


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.

1 Review

KSDB January 13, 2023
I saw this recipe after making my own version of pasta with cabbage and pesto (since that's what I had in my refrigerator and freezer). I used cannellini beans fo a heartier dish because I was using it as a main.

But I'll try this version the next time I main cabbage pasta as a first course.

The recipe from EmilyC looks terrific!