Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cheese Soup from the Valle d'Aosta

During our recent trip to Italy, one of the most amazing things we had to eat was Zuppa Valdostana (aka Seupa a la Valpellinentze) – a traditional soup from the Valle d’Aosta region of Italy made from bread, Savoy cabbage, Fontina cheese (a specialty of the Valle d’Aosta) and beef broth. We had the soup at the restaurant adjoining the Salumeficio Bertolin, just outside the town of Arnad in the heart of the Valle d’Aosta.

The primary reason for our stop at Bertolin was to sample their salumi, in particular the famous Lard d’Anard, and we were successful with that quest (as one can see from the below “modest” single serving presented to each of us).

However, as a second course we were given a bowl of the most wonderful soup – actually “soup” may be a bit misleading since there was no broth in the bowl to speak of – it was more of a rich, cheesy, cabbagy loaf with a very nice crust (as can be seen from the photo at the top of this post).

After we got home from our trip, I did a bit of research online and found a number of recipes for variations of the soup. This past weekend I tried the simplest of them based on the following recipe (from Italian Recipes Made Easy) and the result was very good!

Ingredients (4 servings):

~ ½ ltr good beef broth [.5 liters = 2.11 US cups]
~ 1/2 head Savoy cabbage
~ Wholemeal bread or rye bread
~ 400gr Fontina cheese [400 grams = .88 pounds or 14.1 ounces]
~ Butter as needed

Preparation:

Boil cabbage using a big pot. In a medium oven-pan arrange alternate layers of cabbage, bread slices, and diced Fontina cheese. Last layer must be diced Fontina cheese.

Wet all with warm broth and bake in very hot oven. Cook for 30 minutes till crust is crunchy or more if you desire a more firm soup.

Take pot out of oven; serve soup with melted butter poured over the crust.

==========

I followed the above recipe quite closely. I have to admit that I did not prepare the beef broth from scratch – I just used some Swanson’s.

The head of Savoy cabbage that we got was a bit small so I ended up using the entire head, trimming off the central stems. The soup could have used more cabbage and greener leaves for more visual contrast. After cutting the cabbage up I boiled it in water for about 5 minutes. I would do that again, although perhaps next time boil it in the beef broth.

In the Valle d’Aosta they would probably use their traditional dense “pane nero” (black bread) made from rye flour for this dish. I used a 1-pound loaf of Acme Bakery’s Pain au Levain, a relatively dense and slightly sour bread, cut into slices about ¼ inch thick.

For the cheese we picked up half a pound of authentic Val d’Aosta Fontina from Cheese Plus in San Francisco. It took quite a bit of will power not to eat it all up while I was slicing it.

We ended up with two layers of each ingredient in the pot – bread on the bottom, then cabbage, then cheese on top.

I preheated the oven to 325-degrees and baked the soup for about 40 minutes. It did not form a crust so I probably could have left it in a bit longer, or else used a higher temperature. Here are before and after cooking pictures of the soup pot, as well as a picture of one of the servings.


The soup turned out very well, although as noted it would have been better with a both bit more cabbage and a crusty top. Other recipes for the dish I have seen add guanciale or pancetta, and also nutmeg and/or cinnamon. However, I think I prefer the version we had. Also, if you prefer your soup wet, some of the photos of the dish I have seen show it with a good deal of broth – for example the following from a Corriere della Sera recipe:

I look forward to trying it again soon!

1 comment:

Simona said...

Nice job with the soup! Perfect after a day of hiking on the Alps.