There are a lot of flavors and textures in this dish. Earthy cabbage, sweet orange, salty cheese, spicy chile, chewy beans, all tied together by the pasta. Most beans will work here, darker beans will give color contrast to the cabbage, while white or tan (garbanzo) beans will complement the cabbage and pasta. It’s perfect for now, early winter, when cabbages are still fresh and oranges are in season. If you want to add another unexpected flavor dimension, fry up some bacon at the start, remove, and add in at the end just to warm through. You’ll be in gustatory nirvana.
4 or 5 rashers bacon, optional
2 T vegetable oil or butter or a combination
3/4 c or so chopped onion or leek
2 – 3 t minced garlic
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
6 c shredded or finely chopped green cabbage
2 oranges–1 juiced, and the other peeled, segmented, and cut into pieces
salt and pepper, to taste
2 – 3 c short pasta, such as penne, rotini, rigatoni, ziti, macaroni
2 c cooked beans, drained if necessary
3/4 – 1 c crumbled or grated feta, Romano, Parmesan, ricotta salata, or similar cheese
2 T fresh chopped herb, or 2 t dried herb
1. If using bacon, fry in a large skillet until just crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain and cool, then chop into small pieces and reserve. If there’s a lot of fat, drain some off, and proceed with recipe.
2. If foregoing bacon, heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about a minute. Add the cabbage, stirring to combine with the vegetables and oil. Add the orange juice (hopefully about 1/2 c) along with some salt and pepper, taking into consideration that bacon, if using, and the cheese are salty. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is very soft, about 30 minutes. If the mixture is drying out, add some more liquid, oj if you have it, broth, stock, or water, enough just to keep the mixture moist. If you’re using dried herb, add it during this point; keep fresh herb until the end.
3. Meanwhile, heat water in a large pot for the pasta. Salt the water if you like. About 5 minutes before the pasta is done, add the beans to the cabbage mixture. Drain the pasta, reserving some pasta water, and add to the skillet. Combine well, adding some pasta water if the mixture is dry. Stir in the cheese and fresh herb. Taste for seasonings. Stir in the fresh orange pieces and serve.