Rib-sticking Whole Wheat Pasta for Winter

Winters were much colder when I lived in New England and rib-sticking meals like this pasta dish were meals often made. In southern California it never really gets cold enough to want something rib-sticking, but I love this preparation anyway even for nostalgia’s sake. This preparation was originally inspired by the rib-sticking cooking of the Alpine regions of Italy, Piedmont, northern Lombardy, and Trentino Alto-Adige. It came about some twenty years ago when I cooked a mid-winter dinner for two of my children on a snowy and cold day. I gave my daughter Dyala the task of watching the stove and stirring but I thought she let things go too far since the cabbage and bacon were beginning to darken. But it turned out quite nice, and her brother Seri and I thought it was a real big hit. This recipe is written to yield more servings but pare it down if needed.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Cabbage, Bacon, Juniper Berries and Fontina Cheese
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 8
  • ¼ pound bacon, chopped
  • ¼ pound pancetta, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green part only, split lengthwise and washed well, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 head Savoy cabbage (about 1¼ pounds), cored, cut in half, and thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground caraway seeds
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground juniper berries
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1½ cups finely diced fontina Val d’Aosta cheese
  1. In a flameproof casserole, cook, stirring frequently, the bacon and pancetta with the leek and garlic over medium-high heat until darkened, about 10 minutes. Pour in the wine to de-glaze the casserole and let half of it evaporate, then add the cabbage, caraway, juniper berries, salt, and pepper, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until softened, but still al dente, about 25 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil, salt abundantly, then cook the pasta until al dente. Drain without rinsing, saving a ½ cup of the cooking water.
  3. Transfer the pasta to the casserole. Add the cheese, some more pepper, and toss well, until the cheese has melted. If the cheese is clumping, add some of the reserved cooking water to thin it and continue stirring and cooking, then serve.


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