Never underestimate the power of simplicity. This Creamy Napa Cabbage and Bacon Pasta is low effort but it’s 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 final touch.
Course: Main Course
Keyword: bacon, napa cabbage, pasta
Author: Namiko Chen
1onion(8.8 oz, 250 g)
½lbnapa cabbage(about ½ small napa cabbage)
4button mushrooms(sliced, 106 g)
4slicesapplewood smoked bacon(4 oz, 113 g; you can increase to 6 slices if you like more bacon/meat in this recipe; or cook additional bacon slices separately and sprinkle crispy bacon on top before serving; skip and replace with more mushrooms for vegetarian option)
1lbpenne pasta(4 oz, 113 g per person)
White Sauce Ingredients
4Tbspunsalted butter(¼ cup)
5Tbspall-purpose flour (plain flour)
2cupswhole milk(use reduced-fat milk, if you prefer)
½tspkosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
⅛tspfreshly ground black pepper
2ozParmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese(½ cup; shredded or freshly grated)
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 the onion.
Remove the core of napa cabbage and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) square pieces.
Discard the bottom of mushrooms and slice them.
Cut the bacon into ½ inch (1.3 cm) pieces. Grate the cheese if your cheese is not shredded.
To Cook the Ingredients
In a large (oven-safe) skillet (I use Le Creuset cast iron braiser), heat the butter on medium heat. Add the bacon, stir to separate, and cook till crisp on the edges.
Add the onion and stir to coat well with butter/bacon fat. When the onion is being cooked, start cooking pasta (go to the next step and come back). Continue to saute the onion until tender and translucent, scraping the bottom of the skillet with the wooden spatula.
To Cook 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 1 ½ Tbsp salt and 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 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 and add the flour. Using the wooden spoon, quickly mix the flour with the rest of the ingredients, scraping off the bottom of the skillet, for 2 minutes. It's important to "cook" the flour to rid the raw flour taste. Then gradually add milk, 2 Tbsp at a time, while stirring and scraping off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
As you finish adding the milk, increase the heat to medium.
Add 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 so the moisture will not escape (the white sauce will thicken and may burn if the moisture escapes).
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 salt and 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 pasta and mix well together.
Sprinkle the cheese and then panko evenly on top. If your skillet is not oven-safe, move the mixture into a large baking dish.
To Finish in the Broiler
Preheat the oven broiler to high (550ºF/288 ºC) for 3 minutes. Place the baking dish in the middle rack of the oven, about 8" (20 cm) away from the heating element. Broil until the top gets nicely browned, usually just several minutes, and remove from the oven. Don't leave the kitchen and stay in front of the oven to see the broiling process.
Cut the fresh 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.