Risotto with Red Cabbage and Pancetta

Risotto Col Cavolo Rosso e la Pancetta

The base flavor of this heartwarming cold-weather risotto has its roots in the Venetian practice of cooking shredded Savoy and other cabbages very slowly in olive oil, garlic, and a bit of pork fat. When prepared in that manner they are called sofegae in Venetian dialect, which is to say smothered.

Although here we have an olive-oil base, I chose to complete the risotto with the mantecare technique, swirling in at the end a little butter and grated Parmesan. It pulls the dish together and gives it a gracious finish.


  • 1 pound red cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup very finely chopped pancetta
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thin
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • 5 cups homemade meat broth, prepared, or a bouillon cube dissolved in 5 cups simmering water or ½ cup canned beef broth diluted with cups water
  • cups carnaroli, arborio, or other imported Italian rice for risotto

For Mantecare

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  1. Shred the cabbage very fine, obtaining about 4 cups.
  2. Put the oil, chopped onion, and pancetta into the pot where you will be making the risotto, and turn on the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion becomes colored a very pale gold. Add the sliced garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until its scent begins to rise, but without letting it become colored.
  3. Add the shredded cabbage and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, turning it over and over with a wooden spoon to coat it well. Add ½ cup water, salt, and generous grindings of pepper; turn the cabbage over once again; put a lid on the pot; and turn the heat down to medium low. Cook until the cabbage has softened completely and all but dissolved to a creamy consistency, about 1 hour. If, during the cooking, you find that there is not sufficient moisture in the pot to keep the cabbage from sticking to the bottom, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water whenever necessary.
  4. When the cabbage is just about done, pour the broth into a saucepan and bring it to and keep it at a slow, sputtering simmer on a burner close to the pot with the cabbage.
  5. Uncover the pot with the cabbage, turn the heat up to medium high, and add the rice. Turn it over thoroughly and continuously for about 1 minute to coat it well. Add 1 cup of simmering broth, and cook the rice, stirring it and periodically adding liquid, as described in the basic risotto. Finish cooking the rice, stirring always and adding broth when needed, until it is tender but firm to the bite, about 25 minutes.
  6. Off heat, perform the mantecare step, swirling in the butter and grated Parmesan, turning the risotto over four or five times with your wooden spoon. Transfer to a warm platter and serve at once.