Italian Cabbage Recipe (2024)

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Italian cabbage with sweet and smoky notes from fennel, tomato, onion and smoked paprika. Add some buttery cannellini beans or some plant based sausage to make a meal of things. It’s the perfect meatless weeknight dinner, easy, super flavorful and nutritious.

Jump to RecipeItalian Cabbage

A peasant type meal I remember my grandpa making often after a long day in the fields. It makes use of common and cheap ingredients that fill the belly and satisfy the soul. There are endless delicious ways to cook cabbage in many cultures: from braising, sautéing/frying, stuffing the leaves, pickling, to soups, stews and salads, but this hearty Italian style cabbage recipe is always at the very top of my list.

Ingredient Notes

  • 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

  1. Start by frying lots of onions in a lug of olive oil until golden in color with crispy edges.
  2. Add some fennel seeds and toast them around until fragrant.
  3. Stir in tomato paste and smoked paprika to create a rich sweet and smoky layer of flavor then toss in the shredded cabbage.
  4. Cook down the cabbage until wilted and soft scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  5. 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.

Italian Cabbage Recipe (4)

Recipe Tips

  • 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.

Serving suggestions

Cabbage recipes

Green Minestrone.

Italian Cabbage Recipe (7)

4.50 from 4 votes

Italian Cabbage

Italian cabbage with sweet and smoky notes from fennel, tomato, onion and smoked paprika. Add some buttery cannellini beans or some plant based sausage to make a meal of things, It’s the perfect meatless weeknight dinner, easy, super flavorful and nutritious.

Print Recipe

Prep Time:10 minutes mins

Cook Time:35 minutes mins

Total Time:45 minutes mins


US Customary - Metric


  • 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.

    Italian Cabbage Recipe (8)

  • 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.


Calories: 131kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 303mg | Potassium: 355mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 706IU | Vitamin C: 45mg | Calcium: 147mg | Iron: 4mg

Course: Entree

Cuisine: Italian

Keyword: beans and cabbage, Italian cabbage, Plant-Based, Vegan

Servings: 4 people

Calories: 131kcal

Author: Florentina

Italian Recipes

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  1. Made this last night. Didn’t have fennel so added 1/2 tsp caraway and garlic.Needed some liquid so used vegetable stock about 1 cup. Also instead of chili flakes used chili oil.
    Served with crusty bread and cilantro


  2. Italian Cabbage Recipe (18)
    This dish was so simple and delicious! Thank you for the new addition into our family’s rotation.


  3. Looks nice on the picture but usually doesn’t on a homemade one although not an issue but it would be really good to give an alternative for products that are only available in the US. To my knowledge there’s nothing called “liquid smoke” in the UK or at least I have never seen it in my local supermarkets! Thank you


    1. Hi Lola, this dish was actually photographed in natural light on my office desk next to the window so that’s exactly what it looks like, I do not photoshop any of my photos at all and many of them have been taken with an Iphone. I am not familiar with UK products as I am in the US and have always kept a bottle of liquid smoke in the pantry. I would suggest using smoked sea salt but again not sure if that is available in the UK.The dish is delicious as is but the smoky element comes from one of those 2 ingredients. Is it possible you can order online? Hope you enjoy the cabbage dish regardless ~ Florentina Xo’s


  4. Italian Cabbage Recipe (19)
    This recipe is so fast to work up and so delicious. I can’t wait to make it again. It has a real depth of flavor and feels very hearty for a plant based dish. Thank you so much!


    1. Italian Cabbage Recipe (20)
      Donna liquid smoke available at larger supermarkets and healthier shops. I got mine from a vegan shop in UK.


  5. It was delicious! A good way to use your cabbage. I did have to add some water to the pan to get the cabbage softer without burning. Will try to make soup tomorrow with the left overs!


  6. Italian Cabbage Recipe (21)
    New Favorite cabbage recipe, it tastes amazing, adding the smoked paprika gives it a rich flavor like it’s been cooking for hours. So glad to stumble upon a different cabbage recipe that doesn’t entail frying in bacon grease. Sublime, thanks for sharing!


Italian Cabbage Recipe (2024)


What is the name of the Italian cabbage? ›

Black cabbage is an Italian cabbage, also known as Tuscan cabbage, Tuscan kale, or cavolo nero.

Why do you put vinegar in cabbage when boiling it? ›

Green is the heartiest variety; it takes well to all cooking methods. Red can turn a funny blue color when cooked, so it's best used raw. If you do want to cook it, add a touch of acid like lemon juice or vinegar to lessen the effect. Savoy can be used in any recipe that calls for green cabbage.

Why do you soak cabbage in vinegar? ›

An old trick to use is to leave the cabbage lightly doused in vinegar water for a couple of minutes before proceeding to wash the cabbage with water. Usually between two or four minutes. Vinegar kills some types of bacteria and helps killing mold and mildew that could have grown on the cabbage.

What is Italian black cabbage? ›

WHAT IS CAVOLO NERO? Cavolo nero, also known as Tuscan kale or black kale, is a brassica that's very similar to kale. It originates from Italy but is now grown in the UK. Its name, which means 'black cabbage' in Italian, alludes to its strikingly dark green colour.

Why do Italians say cabbage? ›

In Italian slang, there are many vegetables that play a dramatic role in everyday conversation. But only one is the undisputed prima donna when it comes to kind of swearing in Italian: the cabbage – il cavolo. It is the safe substitute of a much stronger bad word, the same as saying 'fudge' is in English.

What does the bad word cabbage mean? ›

a stupid, dull, or spiritless person. a mentally impaired person who is unable to live independently; vegetable.

What does baking soda do to cabbage? ›

You don't add baking soda. Adding baking soda to your boiling cabbage can help reduce the objectionable smell and maintain the green color long after when it typically turns grayish from cooking for too long. However, this may rid the cabbage of its nutritional value.

Why do you soak cabbage before cooking? ›

Crisp it up: Shredded cabbage stays perky if it's soaked in cold water. This also helps cut the pungent edge. Drain well before combining with other ingredients.

Why do you soak cabbage in ice water? ›

We wanted to find a method that would keep the cabbage from watering down the dressing and also a way to make the salad piquant without tasting too sharp. The solution: Some recipes call for soaking cabbage in ice water to make it crisp and plump.

How long do you need to boil cabbage? ›

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add cabbage. (It's OK to crowd the pot because the cabbage will shrink!) Step 2Boil until tender, about 5 minutes for shredded cabbage and 10 minutes for wedges.

What happens when you pour salt inside a cabbage? ›

The salt pulls moisture out of the cabbage, seasons it, and leaves you with a super-crunchy texture that isn't raw or tough-tasting. Rinse! Rinse well to purge the salt. Get rid of the excess water.

What does pouring salt into a cabbage do? ›

To ferment vegetables, such as cabbage, we take advantage of these two qualities – it's our golden ticket to fermentation! First, we add enough salt to make it difficult for competing microorganisms to survive. The salt then draws moisture out of the cabbage's cells through osmosis, forming a salty brine.

What is Napa Valley cabbage? ›

Napa cabbage is a large oblong cabbage with delicate, crinkled, pale green to white leaves and crisp, wide white ribs. Its flavor is mild and sweet.

What kind of cabbage is napa cabbage? ›

Napa cabbage is a type of Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa var. pekinensis) with an oval head of light green leaves. Its common names include Chinese white cabbage, Peking cabbage, or celery cabbage (due to its white stalks). The word “napa” comes from the Japanese word for leaves, but in Japan, it's called hakusai.

Is napa cabbage the same as cabbage? ›

Napa cabbage has long, oblong-shaped leaves with white ribs and pale green color, while green cabbage has round, compact heads with tightly packed leaves that are darker green. In terms of taste, Napa cabbage tends to be milder and sweeter, while green cabbage has a stronger, more peppery flavor.

What is another name for Tuscan cabbage? ›

Cavolo (cabbage) nero (black) comes with a sleuth of names and nicknames: Tuscan kale, Italian kale, Tuscan cabbage, dinosaur kale, etc. Akin to kale and quinoa, cavolo nero has been at the forefront of the culinary movement.

What is the Italian cabbage like vegetable? ›

Radicchio ⁠— also known as Cichorium intybus and Italian chicory ⁠— is a type of leafy chicory featuring dark reddish-purple leaves and white veins. Though commonly mistaken for red cabbage or lettuce, radicchio has a distinctly bitter taste that goes well with many Italian dishes.

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