So on to cabbage recipe two. This is one of the oddest soups ever. It comes from Aosta which is in Northern Italy, right up high in the Alps, so as you would expect it is very hearty soup and typically packed full of carbohydrates, bread and cheese. Like Fondu, Raclette or Tartiflette and other mountain recipes, it is affectionately known as rib-sticking, the dictionary definition being- to last long and fortify one well; [for food] to sustain one even in the coldest weather.
Obviously there is nothing strange about that, if you live in an extremely cold climate, which of course in London, we don’t. But what is a little extraordinary about this soup is that it is baked, and then what tips it over the edge of unusual recipes, is the combination of stale bread, loads and loads of cheese and cabbage along with anchovies! The anchovies act as an amazing sort of seasoning, which brings this whole soup into a world class of its own so don’t be tempted to leave them out.
I first made Zuppa d’Aosta at the River Café and it even features in their first book. Jamie Oliver rewrites it by adding loads more ingredients including the quite nice, but I think unnecessary addition of bacon. Good, strong bread is essential – I used Gail’s Sourdough, the cheese – should strictly be Fontina d’Aosta but even I struggled to find this, having to make do with a Fontina from Alpeggio (which describes the region rather than the town), which I got from Ocado. Another place to try, if you are in Wimbledon on a Saturday morning, is the wonderful Vallebona, Please do go, if you have not been, because you will find the most amazing selection of mainly Sardinian delights, in the most unlikely setting of an industrial car-park.
If, however you just can’t find any Fontina, another mountain cheese will do such as Gruyere, Emmental or Gouda. Strange or not, as the weather turns colder, this soup is guaranteed to warm you up.
1 savoy or other hearty cabbage, Cavalo Nero or Kale works too
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf stale sourdough or ciabatta bread
large garlic clove peeled and halved
10 anchovy fillets
250g Fontina cheese
2l chicken stock, can be made up from good quality stock cubes
100g parmesan freshly grated
You will need a casserole or saucepan that can be put in the oven.
Preheat the oven to moderate 180C/350F/Gas 4.
Remove the leaves from the cabbage heads one by one and cut out the thick stems from each leaf keeping the leaves whole. Use a mixture of the dark outer leaves and brighter green inner leaves. (The leaves are traditionally kept whole but you can roll them up and shred them, the advantage being that it makes the soup easier to eat.) Blanch the cabbage in boiling salted water for 1 minute then drain well. Cut the bread into slices on an angle to give them as much surface area as possible. Cut off any very tough exterior crusts. Toast the slices on both sides and rub with the garlic. Cut the anchovy fillets into slithers lengthways. Slice the Fontina into slivers. Bring the stock to the boil and season it.
In your casserole or pan make a first layer of cabbage and season with salt and pepper. Place 4 or 5 anchovy slithers evenly spaced on top, then a layer of Fontina followed by one third of the toasted bread. Sprinkle over some Parmesan and add stock to cover this layer. Make a second layer in the same way and then a third finishing with a top layer of bread, sprinkled with the last of the Parmesan. Make sure the stock just covers the top layer.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top.