Once more, this dish was inspired by yet another pasta dish featured in Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. Specifically, the Milan episode, where he decides to treat his crew to Pizzoccheri, a pasta made primarily out of buckwheat flour, which is then dressed with cabbage, potatoes, garlic, cheese, and lots and lots of butter.
It’s meant to be eaten during the coldest months of winter, when you want some of the extra fat to keep you warm. The cabbage and potatoes are definitely “stick to your rib” types of ingredients, while the garlic infuses this dish with intense flavor. However, we are in spring here, in Chicago, and while I enjoy making my own pasta on occasion, I wanted to try making a dish that was a little bit easier to make, especially when we don’t have a lot of time on our hands. So, in lieu of the buckwheat pasta that Stanley so painstakingly rolled out for his guests, I decided to use penne, which, to me, mimicked the length and shape of the Pizzoccheri, and would also give the butter and cheese adequate purchase.
Pizzoccheri calls for cabbage that’s endemic to the region (savoy or “Milan” or “Lombardy” cabbage). Unfortunately, I could not find savoy cabbage in any of my local grocery stores, so I went with regular old cabbage. I also used yukon potatoes, as the waxier spud will ensure that the dish doesn’t get too mushy.
I also used about one quarter of the butter that’s typically used in the traditional recipe, to keep this pasta a lighter affair for a spring menu (though I look forward to December during which I will absolutely increase the butter content!). The key is cooking the butter at a very low temperature while the potatoes and pasta are cooking, so that your garlic is perfectly toasted when it’s time to sauce the pasta.
I made this for the first time for Easter Dinner and it was an absolute hit. I was so nervous that it wouldn’t go over well, but my casserole dish was spotless by the time dinner was over. The butteriness and the crunchy garlic, the creamy cheese, and silky cabbage all came together so beautifully, we couldn’t stop going back for more.
Cabbage and Potato Pasta
- Grate your cheese, chop your potatoes, and tear up your cabbage.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt, potatoes, and cabbage.
- Your potatoes will need about 14 minutes to be fully cooked. Refer to the package instructions on your penne and add the penne to the same pot so that the potatoes and pasta will be finished cooking at the same time. (For example, if the box provides for a 12-minute cooking time, add your pasta to the pot 2 minutes after adding the potatoes and cabbage).
- While the pasta and vegetables are cooking, add the butter and garlic to a small pan over medium-low heat. Once the butter has completely melted, reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. The garlic will eventually turn a toasted golden color.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain the excess liquid completely. Add half the pasta, cabbage, potatoes to a casserole dish and then sprinkle with half the cheese.
- Add the remaining half of the pasta, cabbage, and potatoes to the casserole dish. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.
- Pour the butter and garlic over the top of the cheese.