This dish is inspired by the classic preparation of pizzoccheri, a tagliatelle-like pasta made with buckwheat flour from Northern Italy. It’s commonly tossed with cooked potatoes and cabbage in a buttery, starchy cooking water-thickened sauce accented with grated cheese. It sounded like just my kind of dish, only getting my hands on pizzoccheri noodles this side of the pond, or making it, proved unwieldy.
Therefore, I’ve scrapped the namesake ingredient from the dish and increased the potato to pasta ratio to 1:1. It’s equal parts potatoes and pasta (orecchiette, to go with the small, round flaps of baby red potatoes), with lots of cabbage, butter and cheese.
Precious this dish is not. If there were ever two ingredients to access most abundantly and cheaply, it’s potatoes and cabbage. But the tender, tiny-sized versions of each I was able to find here at the farmers’ market in February are adorable, indeed.
They’re no must-have for making this at home, but they’re perfectly portioned for using up in one serving, without having half-heads oxidizing slowly in your fridge. With these and a pint of baby red potatoes from another stand at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, I had enough stuff to make crunchy salads and breakfast homefries with for the week.
But a pasta dish? Looking into heartier, more dinner-worthy applications for these ingredients I stumbled upon the buckwheat noodle dish from Tuscany. I considered using soba noodles to replicate it more closely at home, and which I’ve swapped in for more Italian-style pasta dishes from time to time because I always keep them on hand. I considered skipping the pasta and just letting the carbohydrates from the potatoes keep it afloat.
But pasta and potatoes make an incredible combination. It sounds superfluous, or anti-Atkins to have two starches in one dish. But when both used to make up the starch in a dish, they play off one another brilliantly, the sweetness of the potatoes tasting sweeter, the chewiness of the pasta becoming more appealing. I couldn’t be interrupted while savoring the whole plate of this, slowly, all my senses entertained.
Should you get sick of eating pile after pile of pasta this winter, give some potatoes tossed into it a chance. Sliced into thin rounds, they can be added to the pot of boiling pasta for the last few minutes, and the resulting cooking liquid will become even more starchy from the addition. Grana Padano is an excellent cheese to sprinkle in with some butter while tossing it all together at the end, and well as Parmiggiano-Reggiano. Grate it nice and finely to let it melt into the thin, viscous liquid that coats the whole dish.
Pasta and Potatoes with Cabbage
(makes about 4 servings)
8 oz. dry shaped pasta (such as orecchiette)
1/2 lb baby red potatoes, sliced into 1/8″ rounds
1 small-medium or 2 baby heads green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated grana padano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and stir in the pasta. Let cook halfway, and add the potato slices. Cook until pasta is al dente and potatoes are just tender.
Meanwhile, heat a very large, wide pan with the olive oil and garlic until it begins to sizzle. Add the cabbage and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes, or until cabbage has shrank a bit in size and is no longer opaque. Transfer the potatoes and pasta to the pan of cabbage along with about 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the butter and cheese. Toss to combine thoroughly, and serve immediately.
(for 4 servings)
2 baby heads cabbage (at $1/each): $2.00
1/2 lb baby red potatoes (from a carton for $3): $1.50
8 oz. pasta: $1.50
1 tablespoon butter: $0.40
1/2 cup grated grana padano: $1.75
1 clove garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper: $0.25
Four brownie points: For all that buttery, cheesy flavor it’s only a quarter of a tablespoon butter per serving. The illusion of richness comes from the starchy pasta cooking water, bubbling into a sauce much like starch-thickened sauces in a stir-fry. With that trick, you can enjoy the wholesomeness of green cabbage even more, which has cholesterol-fighting properties and plenty of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and some fiber to help make up for never having used buckwheat noodles. Potatoes add lots of potassium to the mix, and keeping those red skins on means getting some Vitamin C and B-vitamins, too.
Seven maple leaves: As winter-hardy a dish as they come, this one’s use of potatoes and cabbage means it can also be made pretty much year-round. (Not that you’d be likely to when there’s more stuff in season.) Dried pasta and other imported goodies like aged cheese and olive oil drag down the rating here a bit, since they are so quintessential to making it taste just so, but otherwise, a totally seasonal, vegetarian meal.