Cabbage Soup – The “Canavesana” Way!

We promised this recipe to you. A very simple dish, out of grandmas’ cooking books, heartwarming and deliciously made with what the vegetable garden can offer during the cold times of year. Cabbage, bread and broth, you cannot go wrong!

A Bit of History

Cabbage soup, or “zuppa di cavolo” is a very well known winter recipe in Piemonte. Tradition wants that on the evening of November 1 each family cooked some cabbage soup and before bedtime, the pot was left on the table, fully prepared for the meal, for the deceased souls of family members that were expected to visit the house one more time and enjoy the food. That is why it is also known as “zuppa dei Santi” (soup of the Saints), because of the day in which is prepared. Tradition also wants that the youngest members of the family, after a night out with friends, coming back home and hungry, were the ones eating the delicacy on the table, leaving every other family member to believe the deceased instead enjoyed the dish!

Cabbage soup is enjoyed throughout the winter, not only on November 1. Cabbage is a very common winter vegetable in Canavese. But what is Canavese? Canavese is a geographical area in the North West of Piemonte, where Turin is located, the first capital of Italy and the heart of the Passion for Piemonte Via Vitae Travels Tour. House of the most famous autoctonous white grape Erbaluce, the first white grape from Piemonte to become a DOC. The vine is an old one, perhaps related to Fiano, and brought to Piemonte by the Romans almost two thousand years ago.

Canavese, geographical area in North West Italy

There are slight differences in preparing the basic ingredients. It just all depends on your personal preference, the taste of your guests, and family traditions. But what makes it a Canavesana soup is the cheese: toma or fontina are the best, as they are local to the area. The bread is the hard, left-over bread, because “nothing is wasted”. But of course you can use fresh bread too! As to the broth, either vegetable broth or meat/chicken stock will do the job. For more richness and flavor, some prefer to use sausage, ground beef, or lard, or a mix of any and all, others no meat at all; some use butter, some olive oil, “Tomato, tomato, potato, potato”! So without let or hindrance, here is the recipe!

The Recipe

Ingredients you will need:
  • Savoy cabbage leaves (4 to 6 depending on how big they are)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Butter, 30 gr or same quantity of EVOO
  • Lard, 50 gr or sausage, 300 gr (omit if you prepare the vegetarian version)
  • Slices of bread, (hard left-ver or fresh, we used 1 baguette, 250 gr in this recipe)
  • Broth, 1 liter
  • Toma or fontina, 100 gr
  • Salt, pepper, nutmeg, bay leaves, and juniper berries to taste

1. Add butter, garlic, and meat in a pan, and sautée until everything is nicely cooked. If you want you can add white wine and/or tomato sauce to taste.

2. Add the cabbage leaves, only the green portion, previously washed, drained and sliced. Stir and add a little broth. Cook for 10-15 min.

3. In a baking dish prepare the first layer with some fried cabbage, then add the sliced bread, add more cabbage, a bit of cheese, and continue with layers of bread and cabbage and cheese until you’ve run out of ingredients, but keep aside a bit (or a generous amount!) of cheese. Add the broth until bread is well soaked and cover with remaining cheese. Make sure your baking dish is big enough and offers some extra room: the bread will soak the broth while cooking and the ingredients will double in volume. Bake it uncovered for 1 hour at medium temperature, so flavors will blend, then broil until golden brown, for the last 15-20 min. Let it cool a little (bread maintains the heat, so be careful!) then serve and enjoy!

We kept measurements in grams and liters so you can get used to the local tradition, just in time for your next trip to Italy with Via Vitae Travels! If you do not find neither toma or fontina, asiago or provolone can work, as long as the cheese is not too chewy, your preference will dictate the choice. For a dish the closest to the original, we recommend not to use mozzarella: although easy to find in the United States, the final result as far as the flavor and texture profiles would be just too different. Now – we are firm believers that whatever you like is the best way to cook just (about) anything!

Now it’s your turn! Don’t forget to let us know how it goes – have fun e buon appetito!


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