- The Cabbage – any regular green cabbage that you find at your local market will do here. Savoy cabbage (or cavolo verza in Italian) is perfect if you prefer a milder taste, it has pretty lacy wrinkly deep green leaves that are loosely packed however, so you might want to use an entire head of it in this recipe.
- Onion – go for a large thinly sliced onion of your choosing. I had a beautiful sweet Vidalia sitting on my kitchen counter but purple / red is perfectly fine too and its super pretty. It’s very important to get them crispy in some hot olive oil until the sugars start to caramelize. We aren’t looking for slowly caramelized onions here, we just want a lot of color so the sugars start to concentrate.
- Fennel – add some of those classic Italian seeds at the beginning to toast with the onion, then add more later just before your dish is ready to infuse some new life into it. It’s all about creating different layers of flavors here.
- Tomato paste – you want something thick and concentrated for richness and depth of flavor. Traditionally Passata (a smooth tomato puree) is also used when making Italian cabbage, i insist that tomato paste is so much better in this recipe. It’s thick and sweet and won’t dilute your dish but also it won’t be extra tomatoey. After all, this dish is about the cabbage and onions!
- Smoked paprika + liquid smoke – I used both as i feel they each contribute something unique to the dish. Forget the fatty pancetta, this combo makes everything taste like a great Italian sausage but without the cholesterol and cruelty. If you don’t have any liquid smoke just up the smoked paprika by 1/2 teaspoon or so to your taste then get some liquid smoke in that pantry.
- Cannellini beans – buttery Italian beans very popular in southern Italy and in the daily life of yours truly. However in this recipe they are actually an afterthought, a fabulous attempt to make a hearty meal of things. It feels like they truly belong in this recipe yet you could skip them altogether and still end up with a fantastic cabbage dish. Use the canned ones, they will just take on all the wonderful flavors you have going on already.
How to Make Italian Cabbage
- Start by frying lots of onions in a lug of olive oil until golden in color with crispy edges.
- Add some fennel seeds and toast them around until fragrant.
- Stir in tomato paste and smoked paprika to create a rich sweet and smoky layer of flavor then toss in the shredded cabbage.
- Cook down the cabbage until wilted and soft scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add more fennel seeds and liquid smoke if desired, then stir in some cooked cannellini beans for a heartier more nutritious meal. Adjust seasonings with to taste and serve with fresh herbs.
- Salsiccia e Cavolo – to make “Italian sausage and cabbage” follow this exact recipe and mix in some pan seared plant-based Italian sausage like Beyond Meat.
- Seasoning – remember to season at different stages with salt and pepper to build layers of flavor throughout the cooking process.
- Fresh Herbs – Italian parsley, dill and even thyme make a lovely garnish and brighten up the dish with fresh flavors!
- Storage – if you happen to have any leftovers transfer them to a lidded glass container and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
- Soup – make it a soup or stew by adding some vegetable broth and simmer for a few minutes.
- Preheat a large heavy bottom skillet over medium heat and add a good lug of olive oil.
- Add the sliced onions and a pinch of sea salt. As the onion starts to soften and release its water content turn up the heat so the liquid evaporates and the onion starts to get some color.
- Pan fry the onions until nicely golden with crispy edges. Stir in the chili flakes if using. Add 1 tablespoon of the fennel seeds and toast with the onion until fragrant.
- Stir in the smoked paprika and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes until the sugars begin to caramelize.
- Add the shredded cabbage, season with a pinch of salt and black pepper then mix everything well, scraping any brown bits from the bottom.
- Stir in the liquid smoke if using and cook down the cabbage until wilted and softened and the sugars start to caramelize again on the bottom. You want little golden bits only so be careful not to burn it.
- Push the mixture to the side and add a light drop of olive oil to toast the remaining fennel seeds and infuse a new layer of flavor into your dish.
- Stir in the cannellini beans and toss to coat well. Cook only until warmed through. Adjust seasonings and serve with fresh parsley or dill, fresh bread or bruschetta.
- “Salsiccia e Cavolo" - To make Italian sausage and cabbage follow this exact recipe and add some pan seared plant based Italian sausage like "Beyond Meat".
- Seasoning - remember to season at different stages with salt and pepper to build layers of flavor throughout the cooking process.
- Savoy Cabbage - if using Savoy cabbage make sure to use and entire head as the leaves are loosely packed unlike green cabbage.
- Soup - make an Italian cabbage soup by adding a quart of vegetable stock at the last minute and worming it through.
- Storage - if you happen to have any leftovers transfer them to a lidded glass container and refrigerate for up to 4 days.