One of the consequences of making a lot of bread is that you tend to have a lot of bread. As wonderful as sourdough is it still, eventually, goes stale. When it does the challenge to find new ways of using it up is considerable.
There is a positive pressure brought to bear by the weekly vegetable box delivery. Roots and leaves I might not have readily chosen pose questions of me in thinking of recipes or ways to cook them, and I frequently find myself with a new cabbage before I have eaten the one from last week.
In the winter we are drawn towards comfort food and, with an evening client last night, I wanted something fast, delicious, comforting, and which would give me the chance to use up a whole cabbage and most of a rye sourdough loaf. Tough challenge? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Zuppa d’Aosta.
Soggy bread and cabbage might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea but, oh my, this is an absolute joy. Do not skimp on the bread, you must use great bread. The stock was also significantly improved by the addition on Sundays leftover gravy. On reflection you may want to add fewer anchovies but I love anchovies, so the need to drink a pint of water half an hour after finishing the soup was small price to pay.
The combined delight which comes from eating well, making your own food and using up things which might end up in the bin is a real emotional fillip. It took ten minutes to prepare and came with the knowledge that, aside from the decadent amount of cheese, I was taking care of myself in the most simple but effective of ways.
Aosta is a city in the Alpine region in the North of Italy. It can get pretty cold there in the winter with the daytime temperature failing to rise above zero. When it’s that cold you need hearty food and this soup is about as hearty as it gets.
I know that some people are appalled at the notion of putting bread into soup but it makes so much sense. You can bulk an otherwise thin broth into a hearty meal. You can thicken a soup with breadcrumbs stirred in or, as is the case here, you can lightly toast bread, rub it with garlic and layer it creating a wonderful rib sticking array of textures. Try and set your prejudices about “soggy bread” aside and you will open your mind to an absolute jewel of flavour. It makes me want to go skiing.
Do try and use sourdough. Wholemeal, white or rye are all magnificent, but a bit of drying bloomer from Tesco will simply not cut it.
1 loaf good sourdough bread, slices cut on an angle to maximise surface area and lightly toasted.
1 savoy cabbage sliced thinly, hard core removed
1 tin of anchovies with their oil (reduce the anchovies but don’t be tempted to cut them out. They season rather than giving a fishy taste.
1.5 litres good stock (beef is best in my opinion, but you can use chicken or vegetable if you wish)
200g Gruyere or Fontina cheese. You’ll struggle to find the Fontina made in Aosta but the more common “Alpeggio” will do.
1 clove of garlic
Pre heat the oven to Gas 3/170c/325f
In a heavy bottomed casserole layer cabbage seasoned with pepper (no salt because the anchovies will more than handle that job), then toasted bread rubbed with the garlic clove and painted with the anchovy oil, then cheese and chopped anchovies alternately until all of the ingredients are used. I generally end up with two layers of each which works well. Make sure you finish with a layer of cheese on top.
Pour the hot stock over the ingredients until it is approaching the top of the pan but is below the top layer of cheese.
Put it into the oven without a lid for around 45 minutes.
Ladle into deep bowls, garnish with even more cheese, Parmesan is good here, and enjoy with a hefty glass of water.