Cabbage, chillies, creamy burrata - boom! An unexpected meat-free meal

Calabrian chillies give cabbage a kick.
Calabrian chillies give cabbage a kick. Photo: Jennifer Chase/The Washington Post

This fiery meat-free meal idea comes via an Italian restaurant in Washington DC.

​High heat does luscious things to cabbage. I was reminded of that during a recent meal at Centrolina in Washington. Chef-restaurateur Amy Brandwein gives Chinese cabbage quarters a quick turn in her wood-fired oven, where their frilly edges crisp up and their layers of leaves go meltingly sideways, slightly sweeter.

They are topped with a dressing that relies on a jarred condiment: crushed Calabrian chillies in oil, which are far less threatening than their fiery colour and visible seeds suggest. You see them sometimes strewn across good-quality Neapolitan pizzas or over a salad.

Our table dug in and demolished the dish, which Brandwein offers as a starter. I was so smitten that this recipe is the result, with the chef's blessings.

A cranked-up oven won't give you the smokiness of Centrolina's presentation, but the softness and char will be there. Serve it with a portion of creamy burrata cheese, and I'm convinced you'll be happy with this simple, sophisticated cabbage as a main course - and you'll find ways to use up that small jar of chillies faster than you think.

Charred Chinese cabbage with Calabrian chillies

In testing, we tried to substitute the Calabrian chillies with a mix of finely chopped roasted red capsicum (packed in oil) and crushed red pepper flakes; the flavour was not quite the same, but acceptable here, in a pinch.

Jars of Calabrian chillies in oil are available at Italian and specialist grocers; the chillies have a smoky-salty-sweet flavour.


3 large cloves garlic


1½ to 2 tbsp jarred crushed Calabrian chiles in oil, or to taste

2 tbsp plus 1 tsp agave nectar

2 tbsp plus 1 tsp white wine vinegar

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

½ large head Chinese cabbage (about 680g)

coarse sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

10 chives

1 ball burrata cheese (about 115g)

crusty bread, to serve


1. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven; preheat to 260C.

2. Meanwhile, finely chop the garlic and transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the Calabrian chillies in oil (to taste), the agave nectar, vinegar and the olive oil. Seal and shake to form an emulsified dressing.

3. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise into two equal pieces, keeping the core intact but discarding any wilted layers of leaves. Place in a cast-iron skillet or on a rimmed baking tray, cut sides up. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast (upper rack) for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cabbage becomes tender and its leaves separate and char on the edges.

4. While the cabbage is in the oven, finely chop the chives.

5. Let the cabbage pieces sit for two minutes (in the pan or on the baking sheet). Use a long spatula to then transfer one to each serving plate; drizzle each portion with 1½ tablespoons of the dressing. Top each cabbage chunk with chives.

6. Serve warm with the burrata, which also benefits from a drizzle of the dressing, and crusty bread, for mopping up any dressing.

Serves 2

Adapted from a recipe by Amy Brandwein, chef-owner of Centrolina.

The Washington Post