Two elements in particular are basic to the cooking from the region of Val D’Aosta: bread, the basis of the peasant diet, and the stock pot always simmering on the back of the stove.
Zuppa alla Valpellinese begins with a brodo, but by the time the soup is done the brodo has practically disappeared and the soup has turned into a thick hearty bread porridge and the word soup seems hardly appropriate.
This mountaineers dish consists of layered heavy bread, cabbage, Fontina cheese and meat broth.
Serves 10 as a first course or 6 as a main course.
- 1 medium-sized cabbage, preferably Savoy
- 2 Liters (8 cups) meat broth (brodo)
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 6 ounces Fontina cheese, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 12 slices rustic heavy bread, rye or whole grain, lightly toasted
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cut the cabbage in quarters, remove and discard the core. Cook the cabbage quarters in boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drain thoroughly; cut the leaves into ½ inch long strips.
Bring the broth to a boil, add the cabbage and cook until tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan and over medium heat, add the onions; cook until translucent, then add the garlic and cook it until it becomes soft (not browned). Combine the onion garlic mixture with the cooked cabbage in broth.
Line the bottom of a 3 quart ovenproof, oven to table baking dish, with a layer of bread slices. Remove the cabbage from the broth with a slotted spoon, and cover the bread with half of the cabbage. Top the cabbage with a layer of half of the Fontina cheese and a good sprinkling of Parmigiano cheese. Repeat with a second layer of cabbage and Fontina.
Pour the broth that the cabbage was cooking in over the ingredients, adding enough to barely cover the top. Sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano and drizzle the top with the melted butter. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for about one hour or until the zuppa is bubbling and golden crusted.
Serve bubbling hot.
Note: Often when one is finishing the last of the broth in one’s plate, a little red wine is poured into the plate to blend with the left over flavors.
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