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How I Turned Ham, Cabbage + Beans into…Pasta Cavalo con Polpette di Proscuitto Cotto e Fagioli

January 6, 2012 by Joan Nova in Italian, Marrying Flavors, Meat, Pasta, Recipe Development | 16 Comments

OK, who has leftover ham squirreled in the freezer from the holidays? This one’s for you!

There was an article in the food section of The New York Times this week about using leftover meat mixed with raw meat to make meatballs. I don’t know about that, but the idea of meatballs made from leftover meat lingered. And, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, it met up with all the pork and cabbage dishes I’d seen around the blogosphere New Year’s weekend — and the idea for this dish was born.

I was longing for meatballs. I had a yen for cabbage. And there’s always room on my plate for pasta. So, why not?

I defrosted my packet of leftover Christmas Day ham and ran out to the market to pick up a savoy cabbage. And a very fancy bag of imported pasta. (Not intentionally but I couldn’t resist; see below.)

Ham + Cannellini Meatballs
1 cup minced ham
1/2 cup cooked white beans
1/2 cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs*
1 egg beaten
1 tbs fresh orange zest
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Baked at 375 degrees for about 1/2 hour.

Makes about 8 (ice cream scoop size).

*It was a little difficult to hold together when I started forming balls so I added some more bread crumbs.
Still difficult but better. Use your own good sense.

(1) Because ham is salty, no seasoning was added except freshly ground black pepper.
(2) Ham pairs well with fruit so I thought a little orange zest would help balance it out too.

Pasta e Cavolo (Cabbage)
1/2 head savoy cabbage shredded
1 cup chicken broth
1 tbs fennel seed
1 clove garlic minced
1 pat of unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

  • Cook cabbage with chicken broth.
  • When softened and liquid is absorbed, add butter, oil and garlic.
  • Add a little salt, freshly ground black pepper, fennel seeds and nutmeg.
  • Saute for about 5 minutes or so to thoroughly coat cabbage and meld flavors.

This dried pici calls for 22 minutes cooking time. I cooked it about 20 minutes and then tossed it with the cabbage over heat for about another minute. [Note: I did not thoroughly drain it so that a little of the starchy pasta water helped create the sauce.]

Finishing Touch: Grated cheese, more black pepper and a few more orange zests.

And, as always, I learned a few things:

  1. I need to bring cabbage into my kitchen more frequently.
  2. It was worth the extra $$ and double cooking time for this pasta. I felt like I was back in Italy.
  3. The orange zest was a killer call! It added brightness and just the balance I was looking for.
  4. You use less pasta when you blend it with vegetables. (I already knew and embrace this.)

I have some meatballs left over. I’m thinking they’d make a good stuffing for peppers, but I’m not really feeling that. Also thinking about a fritatta.

Anyone have any other suggestions???


NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. doggybloggy says:

    beautiful absolutely beautiful
    doggybloggy recently posted..New Years Eve and some ancient traditionsMy Profile

  2. Liz says:

    Great creation!

  3. Incredible – and more gratifying when you sit to eat it, and love it. Looks stunning… how about grinding the meatballs and making a pate?
    A Canadian Foodie recently posted..Food Trends 2012 Part Seven: Local Farmers Chime in!My Profile

  4. Buela says:

    What a creative and beautiful approach to meatballs and spaghetti !

  5. Platanos, Mangoes and Me! says:

    Only you could think of something so creative. Now that’s a hamabolla.

  6. I have ham from New Year’s and now I know what I am going to do with it. Love the idea of the orange zest. I also like A Canadian Foodie’s idea of making paté out of any leftover ham balls.
    Victoria Challalncin recently posted..Cinnamon Roll WafflesMy Profile

  7. I have to do a meatball foodie challenge thing this month and this is certainly an inspiration for that, Joan.
    angela@spinachtiger recently posted..Shredded Brussels Sprouts Salad with Baby Peas, Toasted Almonds and LemonMy Profile

  8. These meatballs look delicious! A great recipe for ham leftovers.
    I wish you a wonderful 2012 :)

  9. I’m loving those meatballs! Well, the whole dish, really, but those meatballs!! YUM. I made rack of pork for Christmas so no leftover ham, but I’m thinking a nice ham steak will be worth the purchase just to make this.
    the wicked noodle recently pinterest finds {healthy edition}My Profile

  10. Lori Lynn says:

    Whoa Joan! This is super creative. We are working on Meatballs for our 5 Star Foodie Makeover this month. Your post is a huge inspiration.
    P.S. I have a hankering for cabbage now too.
    Lori Lynn recently posted..Cinnamon Pâté for Bánh Mì CanapésMy Profile

  11. Is there no stopping you? Again, quite an idea to turn the leftover ham into meatballs.
    Peter G @ Souvlaki For The Soul recently posted..Photo Friday-a tale of two sandwichesMy Profile

  12. I love this approach to cooking!

  13. Robin Sue says:

    Wonderful meal Joan. Leftover meatballs? What’s that? Haha! I always like some leftover mealballs sliced on a piece of Italian toast with extra sauce. Like a bruschetta I guess. Did you ever return that pasta machine or are you going to give it a go?
    Robin Sue recently posted..Mason Jar Pigs in a Blanket Pancakes with Maple Fried ApplesMy Profile

  14. What a great use of leftovers! The cabbage in the pasta sounds fantastic too. I’m actually planning a pasta with cabbage dish for dinner tonight. Can’t wait!
    lisaiscooking recently posted..Polenta and Pepita Country BreadMy Profile

  15. You are showing us real talent Joan! It ‘s easy when we go and buy all the ingredients..but making a great dish, with what we have (well I understand your soft spot for that pasta..) Congratulations!
    Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris recently posted..St Valentine’s Day Menu: Verrine: Tomato, Goat Cheese Faisselle & Tapenade (Starter)My Profile

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