Whole Wheat Pasta with Braised Savoy Cabbage and Fennel Seed

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Whole-wheat pasta has a robust, nutty, grainy taste that I like with winter greens and cabbage. The pasta’s texture suffers a little because whole wheat contains the bran, which cuts the gluten strands created when dough is kneaded. That’s why whole-wheat pasta is not as firm to the tooth as pasta from refined flour. My husband dislikes it for that reason, so I cook it for myself when he’s away. You could add a little crumbled sausage to this sauce if you like, but it doesn’t need it. If you can’t find whole-wheat fusilli (De Cecco makes it), substitute another whole-wheat shape, or use regular fusilli.

Serves4 to 6



Total Timeunder 1 hour

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, halal, healthy, high fiber, kosher, low cholesterol, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Equipmentmortar and pestle, spice grinder


Taste and Texturebuttery, cheesy, chewy, nutty, savory

Type of Dishdry pasta, pasta


  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch of hot pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds Savoy cabbage, halved, then cut into 1-inch wedges, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise
  • ¾ teaspoon fennel seed, crushed in a mortar or spice grinder
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 1 pound whole-wheat fusilli or other short dried pasta
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing at the table


  1. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over moderately low heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and starting to color, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and hot pepper flakes and sauté briefly to release the garlic fragrance. Add the cabbage and fennel seed, season with salt to taste, and stir well. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage wilts and softens, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the parsley and keep warm.

  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Set aside 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot over low heat. Add the cabbage, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and the cheese. Toss until the butter melts, moistening with reserved pasta water—you will probably need quite a bit of it.

  3. Divide the pasta among warm bowls and serve immediately. Pass the additional cheese at the table.

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I started with butter, but added olive oil when the cabbage started to stick while cooking. Fennel added a great flavor. Used butterfly noodles--not whole wheat but good quality. Enjoyed this quite a bit, even re-heated.

I would substitute olive oil for butter and omit the fennel seeds.


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