Melty Cabbage Pasta Carbonara

published Mar 2, 2024
Melty Cabbage Pasta Carbonara Recipe

Swap out half of the pasta for tender ribbons of caramelized cabbage.


Prep15 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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overhead shot of melty cabbage carbonara in a pan, topped with herbs and cheese - and with metal tongs grabbing a bunch of spaghetti.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

We both know what classic carbonara is — a decadent Roman pasta dish with a rich, creamy sauce made from just eggs and pasta water. But I want to tell you about this other, less traditional delicious thing: melty cabbage carbonara.

Cabbage might not seem like it belongs here. Yet when you slice it and cook it down for just 15 minutes, it transforms into ribbons of meltingly tender, caramelized perfection that you would swear are covered in butter (reader, there is no butter in here!). All that cabbage ends up taking the place of half the pasta, but stays just as filling tossed in the classic creamy egg-based sauce.

Because I’m already branching away from tradition, I swap in a tin or jar of anchovies for the traditional guanciale (we also have a recipe for anchovy carbonara if that’s your thing). I love the way the umami-rich ‘chovies melt into the sauce and make the cabbage the star of the show. Rest assured, this is not a fishy pasta.

Why You’ll Love It

  • Ribbons of caramelized cabbage replace half of the pasta for a silky, filling vegetable-forward meal that’s a delicious twist on the classic Roman dish.
  • Anchovies and cabbage make this a really cost-effective and easy-to-source dinner. 

Key Ingredients in Melty Cabbage Carbonara

  • Pecorino Romano cheese. Opt for a block and skip the pre-grated containers, as they will not melt and emulsify the same as fresh, finely grated cheese.
  • Cabbage. Shredded green cabbage ribbons melt down to a silky texture.
  • Lemon. A little acidity balances the rich sauce and cabbage.
  • Spaghetti. Look for a brand that is bronze-cut like De Cecco because the rougher texture will grip the sauce better.
  • Anchovies. Tinned anchovies replace traditional guanciale or pancetta. 
  • Eggs. Whole eggs and a few extra yolks contribute to the rich, creamy pasta sauce.
  • Parsley. I wouldn’t ever put a sprinkle of parsley on classic carbonara, but for reasons I can’t explain I do really love it in this recipe. It is optional, though, if you want to skip the garnish.

How to Make Melty Cabbage Carbonara

  1. Cut the cabbage. Core and halve the cabbage, then cut into ribbons.
  2. Cook the anchovies and cabbage. Cook the anchovies, then the cabbage, covered at first; the steam will speed up the cooking process. 
  3. Cook the pasta. Cook the pasta until it’s just barely al dente (keep the starchy water for later). 
  4. Make the sauce. Mix grated Pecorino Romano cheese, eggs, extra yolks, pepper, and pasta water.
  5. Finish the pasta. Add the cooked spaghetti directly to the skillet with the cabbage, then the cheese-egg mixture, and toss the pasta vigorously until it comes together — it should be glossy. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

Helpful Swaps

  • Swap anchovies for diced guanciale (cured pork jowl) or pancetta (cured pork belly) for a more traditional protein.
  • Use Parmesan cheese instead of Pecorino Romano.
  • Use a whole 1-pound package of pasta and a large cabbage (doubling the rest of the ingredients) to feed a crowd on a budget.
  • I like spaghetti here, but you could certainly substitute bucatini or another noodle-y pasta shape.

If You’re Making Melty Cabbage Carbonara, a Few Tips

  • Use good anchovies. Choose a decent-quality tin you would eat on its own (if that’s your thing). I like Ortiz, Merro, and Agostino Recca.
  • Move your skillet on and off the heat as needed when cooking the egg mixture. This sauce cooks quickly, so keep an eye on the eggs. If you feel like it’s getting too hot, too fast, move the skillet to an empty burner to slow the cooking. 

Melty Cabbage Pasta Carbonara Recipe

Swap out half of the pasta for tender ribbons of caramelized cabbage.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


  • 1 ounce

    Pecorino Romano cheese (about 2/3 cup finely grated or 1/2 cup store-bought grated), plus more for serving

  • 1

    medium green cabbage (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)

  • 1

    large lemon

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 1

    (2- to 3-ounce) can or jar anchovy fillets (do not drain)

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 8 ounces

    dry spaghetti

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 2

    large egg yolks

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for serving

  • 5

    sprigs fresh parsley (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, finely grate 1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese on a Microplane (about 2/3 cup), or measure out 1/2 cup store-bought grated. Core and cut 1 medium green cabbage into 1/4-inch-thick shreds (about 10 cups). Finely grate the zest of 1 large lemon into a small bowl (about 2 teaspoons); juice the lemon into the same bowl (about 1/4 cup).

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat until shimmering. Add 1 (2- to 3-ounce) can or jar anchovy fillets and their oil. Cook, stirring frequently and using the side of a wooden spoon to press on the anchovy fillets to encourage them to break up and soften, until the anchovies dissolve into a loose paste, about 2 minutes.

  3. Add the cabbage and 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Stir well to combine. Cover and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Stir, cover again, and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the cabbage is very soft, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.

  4. While the cabbage is cooking, add 8 ounces dry spaghetti and the remaining 2 teaspoons kosher salt to the boiling water. Cook according to package directions until the pasta is just al dente, 8 to 12 minutes. Place 4 large eggs and 2 large egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk until combined. Add the cheese, 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, and a pinch of kosher salt, and whisk until combined. Pick the leaves and tender stems from 5 fresh parsley sprigs and finely chop.

  5. While whisking constantly, slowly stream 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water into the egg mixture.

  6. When the spaghetti is ready, turn off the heat. Using tongs, transfer the spaghetti into the skillet with tongs; it’s OK if some water clings to the pasta. Add 1/4 cup of the pasta water and the lemon juice mixture to the skillet, and toss until the pasta is well-coated and most of the liquid has been absorbed.

  7. While tossing the pasta constantly, slowly pour the egg mixture into the skillet, pouring into the center over the pasta and not around the edges.

  8. Turn the heat on to the lowest setting and cook, tossing constantly, until the sauce starts to thicken and coats the pasta, 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure to move the skillet around so any hot spots on the burner don’t scramble the eggs. Remove the pan from the heat.

  9. Taste and season with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Transfer to a large bowl or individual serving bowls and serve immediately with parsley if using, more grated Pecorino, and a few grinds of black pepper on top if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.