Outside of my requisite purchases of onions and garlic, my number one pick for “best quarantine produce” is green cabbage. It happens to be my number one pick for non-quarantine produce, too, because it’s cheap, it has a long shelf life, and it’s damn tasty as long as you remember not to boil it. Cabbage, being a sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetable, smells like hot farts when it is boiled, and I am 99% sure that traumatizing childhood memories of being forced to eat hot fart boiled dinners is the only reason cabbage is not the most popular vegetable in America. Once you address and move past that trauma, cabbage will become an indispensable staple in your kitchen. There are six cabbages currently stuffed into the back of my fridge, ready to spring into action whenever they’re called up to the big leagues. Why six? Because I fear cabbage hoarders. I know that whoever tries this recipe will immediately see the light, head to the supermarket, and transform into the insatiable cabbage fiend that has been haunting my nightmares (there has long been a supermarket in my subconscious, and the things that happen in that place are terrifying). But I must always think of others, and I know that in times like these, cabbage can save our souls.
In The Essentials of Italian Cooking—a “must own” cookbook for one and all—the legendary Marcella Hazan provides a revelatory recipe for Venetian smothered cabbage. It’s impossibly easy to make, its ingredients are pedestrian and cheap, and yet it’s somehow one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted in my entire life. It’s what all six of those cabbages sitting in my fridge are likely to become. And those smothered cabbages will subsequently be stirred into long-simmered homemade broths, or topped with runny poached eggs, or used to add substance to simple dinners of roasted chicken thighs or pan-seared lamb chops. Mostly, though, they will be incorporated into this pasta, because even though it is powerful beyond measure, miraculous smothered cabbage cannot soothe my psyche the way pasta and cheese can. When you put these true miracle foods together in one dish, the result it so transcendent that it makes all those traumatic fart memories and Thunderdome supermarket nightmares fade away into nothingness. You’ve got butter, pasta, cheese, and cabbage. You are whole. You are good.
- 1 small head cabbage, cored, quartered, and shaved into 1/4"-wide ribbons
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 stick butter
- 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 lb. box fettuccine
- kosher salt, to taste
- Crumbly cheese, like ricotta salata or queso fresco, for serving (optional)
In a Dutch oven over high heat, saute the onions in the olive oil for 5 minutes until they begin to color, then add the garlic and continue sauteing until golden brown. Stir in the cabbage a handful at a time with a pinch of salt, letting each addition cook for about 30 seconds until wilted before adding the next handful. Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the pepper, and cook the cabbage uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it begins to color slightly—about 15-20 minutes. Add the stick of butter, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking slowly while you make the pasta.
Fill a large pot with about one gallon of water (no need to measure); cover and bring to a boil. Stir in 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, then add the fettuccine and cook until just al dente. Fill a measuring cup with 2 cups of pasta water, then drain the pasta. Add red wine vinegar, Parmesan cheese, and 3/4 cup pasta water to the Dutch oven, then add the fettuccine and toss. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook for two minutes, adding additional pasta water at your own discretion, and serve immediately with lots of freshly cracked pepper and a bit of crumbled cheese, if desired.