What to make for dinner isn’t always an easy question to answer. As a dietitian, I think cooking at home is one of the best (and really, easiest) ways to help meet your nutrition goals. Whether you need to watch your intake of specific nutrients or ingredients, or you’re looking to improve your health or reach and maintain a healthy weight, it’s much easier to control what you put in your body if you make it yourself. But I also know there are many challenges to deal with between the thought “I want to cook something healthy for dinner” and getting it on the table.
This is a pasta dish I’ve been making recently. I like it for a number of reasons:
1. First, and most important, it tastes good and is a satisfying weeknight meal.
2. It’s just a two pot meal: one to cook the vegetables, one to cook the pasta. This definitely helps make cleanup easier.
3. The ingredients aren’t hard to prep (as I mention below, there are even pre-chopped vegetables that you can buy to save time)
4. The meal isn’t expensive to make. Cabbage and pasta, in particular, are on the inexpensive end of the spectrum. Brussels sprouts, when in season, are reasonable. Pancetta can be pricey, but you can also substitute bacon or omit the meat altogether.
5. It’s a one-and-done kind of meal: it’s a vegetable-packed pasta dish that is so appropriate smack in the middle of winter and the sluggish weeks leading up to spring. The vegetables are mixed right in to the pasta, so you don’t have to make a side dish or salad along with it. Feel free to add it if you want to, but the cabbage and Brussels sprouts combo go a long way all on there own towards making sure you get plenty of vegetables at dinner.
To save time, I bought both pre-shredded cabbage and Brussels sprouts from Trader Joe’s. If you do this instead of shopping your own vegetables, be sure to comb through the shredded leaves and remove any tough bits. I found the hard bottom edge of both the cabbage and the sprouts could sometimes wind up in the mix – and those don’t soften into silkiness with cooking.
If you’re chopping up your own cabbage head, try to go for pieces of about the same size to help ensure even cooking. I start cooking the cabbage first and add the Brussels sprouts partway through because they need less time to cook to get to the same texture.
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts & Cabbage Pasta
1 pound campanelle pasta (a trumpet-shaped pasta, but other tube-shaped pastas with ridges, such as penne, will work, too)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound shredded cabbage
1 pound shredded Brussels sprouts
1/4 pound pancetta, cubed
1/3 cup dry white wine
1. In a large skillet cook the pancetta over medium heat until browned and just slightly crispy. Remove from skillet but leave the rendered fat in the pan (there usually isn’t a lot, but I think it still helps with flavor). Add 2 Tablespoons olive oil to the pan and add the cabbage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage starts to wilt. After 15 minutes, add the shredded Brussels sprouts (add another 1 Tablespoon of oil if the mixture is dry). Cook for another 15 minutes until the vegetables are very soft and slightly browned.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil; once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook until done (usually about 8-10 minutes). Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining. Return the pasta to the pot (don’t allow to sit long; add just a little olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking if the vegetables aren’t quite done).
3. Once the vegetables are cooked through, return the pancetta to the pan and add the wine. Toss with the pasta and cheese. Add some of the reserved pasta water if the mixture is dry. Serve hot.