Never underestimate the power of simplicity. This Creamy Napa Cabbage and Bacon Pasta is low effort but everything you need for a comforting, delicious meal. To give the cheesy topping a nice crispy char, set the pasta in the broiler for the perfect finishing touch.
When I see napa cabbage, I immediately think about hot pots, pan-fried dumplings, Asian coleslaw…but today, we’re going to make a western meal. Enter Creamy Napa Cabbage and Bacon Pasta (白菜とベーコンのクリームパスタ).
Here, sweet tender cabbage basked in glorious carb and a creamy sauce, it’s simple and full of warmth – the best kind of pasta to enjoy all year round. The slightly charred panko topping gives the entire dish an extra perk! So good, so easy. And perfect for a busy weeknight meal.
How to Make Creamy Napa Cabbage Bacon Pasta
Ingredients You’ll Need
We use basic pantry ingredients and you can definitely use what you have in your fridge to make it work.
- Napa cabbage
- Penne pasta (or other short pasta)
- Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- Bechamel sauce (white sauce) – butter, flour, and milk
To make it vegetarian, just leave out the bacon and add in more mushrooms. A mix of mushrooms such as portobello, king oyster and shiitake will pack a lot of umami punch! Feel free to add in nutritional yeast for extra flavors and nutrients.
Quick Overview of Cooking Process
- Cook bacon and onion in butter.
- Add flour and milk to make the bechamel sauce (white sauce).
- Add napa cabbage and mushrooms and cook them in the white sauce.
- Combine with cooked pasta and sprinkle cheese on top.
- Finish in the broiler to give a nice char for the cheesy topping.
Helpful Cooking Tips
- Don’t skimp on the butter – It is the base for making a creamy white sauce.
- Cook the flour in the butter on low heat – This will avoid raw flour taste in the white sauce. Keep stirring and don’t burn it.
- Slowly and gradually add milk – It is very important to incorporate a small amount of milk into the butter/flour mixture to avoid lumps.
- Cook napa cabbage, covered, in the white sauce on low heat – We will make the smooth creamy white sauce first before adding the napa cabbage and mushrooms. Once the sauce is ready, make sure to put the lid on, and cook on low heat. The moisture inside the pan will keep the white sauce from drying and burnt.
- Reserve some pasta cooking water – When you make pasta, it’s always best to reserve some pasta water to loosen up the pasta and sauce.
- Love crunchy topping? – Use panko! Panko gives a beautiful crunch.
If you have some leftover napa cabbage on hand, try this. You can’t go wrong when combined it with pasta, creamy sauce and cheese baked to the perfection.
Other Pasta Recipes You May Enjoy
- Ume Shiso Pasta
- Miso Butter Pasta with Tuna and Cabbage
- Creamy Miso Pasta with Tofu and Asparagus
- Shiso Garlic Pasta
- Japanese-Style Mushroom Tuna Pasta
- Japanese-Style Pasta with Shrimp and Broccolini
Creamy Pasta with Napa Cabbage and Bacon
For the Pasta
- 1 onion (8.8 oz, 250 g)
- ½ lb napa cabbage (about ½ small head)
- 4 button mushrooms (sliced, 106 g)
- 4 slices applewood smoked bacon (4 oz, 113 g; for more bacon flavor, you can increase to 6 slices; or cook additional slices separately and sprinkle crispy bacon on top when serving; replace with more mushrooms for vegetarian)
- 1 lb penne pasta (4 oz, 113 g per person)
For the White Sauce
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter (¼ cup)
- 5 Tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour)
- 2 cups whole milk (or use reduced-fat milk)
- ½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the Toppings
- 2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese (½ cup; shredded or freshly grated)
- 2 oz Gruyere cheese (½ cup; freshly grated)
- ¼ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) (4 Tbsp)
- parsley (fresh; finely chopped)
- Gather all the ingredients. Start boiling 4 quarts (16 cups, 3.8 L) water in a large pot. When the water boils, keep it covered and on low heat until you‘re ready to cook the pasta.
To Prepare the Ingredients
- Mince 1 onion.
- Remove the core of ½ lb napa cabbage and cut it into pieces 1-inch (2.5-cm) square.
- Discard the bottom of 4 button mushrooms and slice the caps.
- Cut 4 slices applewood smoked bacon into ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces. Grate 2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese and 2 oz Gruyere cheese if they are not already grated.
To Cook the Ingredients
- In a large, oven-safe skillet (I use Le Creuset cast iron braiser), heat 4 Tbsp unsalted butter on medium heat. Add the bacon, stir to separate, and cook until crisp on the edges.
- Add the onion and stir to coat well with the butter and rendered bacon fat. While the onion is cooking, start cooking the pasta (see the next step). Continue to sauté the onion until tender and translucent, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spatula.
- To Cook the Pasta: The water in the pot should be boiling by now. If you kept it on low heat, bring it back to medium-high heat. Add 1½ Tbsp Kosher salt and 1 lb penne pasta, stirring to make sure the pasta doesn’t stick to each other. Tip: I usually reduce the cooking time by 1 minute if I have to continue cooking the pasta in sauce afterward. Drain if you finish cooking the pasta first, but you should be able to cook the rest of the ingredients in 10 minutes while the pasta is being cooked.
- When the onion is tender, lower the heat. Then, add 5 Tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour) to the skillet with the onions. Using the wooden spoon, quickly mix the flour with the rest of the ingredients, scraping the bottom of the skillet, for 2 minutes. It‘s important to cook the flour to get rid of the raw taste. Then, gradually add 2 cups whole milk, 2 Tbsp at a time, while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan with the wooden spoon.
- As you finish adding the milk, increase the heat to medium.
- Add the napa cabbage and mushrooms and coat them well with the white sauce.
- Scoop and reserve ¼ cup of cooking pasta water and add it to the white sauce. Stir to loosen it up. Now, put the lid on and cook covered on low heat for 3–5 minutes until the napa cabbage and mushrooms are tender. Make sure the lid is tight-fitting to keep the moisture from escaping, which would cause the white sauce to thicken and possibly burn.
- By now, pasta should be done cooking. Drain well and set aside.
- Open the lid and see if the cabbage and mushrooms are tender. Season the sauce with ½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt and ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper. Make sure the sauce is not bland at this step as we will add pasta, which will dilute the flavor a bit.
- Add the drained pasta and mix well together.
- Sprinkle evenly on top with the cheeses and then ¼ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs).
To Finish in the Broiler
- Preheat the oven broiler to High (550ºF/288 ºC) for 3 minutes. Place the oven-safe skillet or baking dish with the pasta in the middle rack of the oven, about 8 inches (20 cm) away from the heating element. Broil until the top gets nicely browned, usually just several minutes, and remove from the oven. Stay in front of the oven to monitor the broiling process.
- Finely chop the parsley and sprinkle on top. Serve warm.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and in the freezer for a month.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 30, 2011. The post has been updated with new images in May 2021.