il weekend di zuppe.

It was a rather perfect weekend for soup, overcast and drizzly. My ingredients were giving me Italian directions again for soup #2, the loudest of these voices coming from a head of green cabbage that was starting to go limp on me (go leeeemp was Mary Quinones' advice to me back in 1994 when I complained that her friend Don't propositioned me and wouldn't take no for answer. Mary's sage advice refers to the childhood defense technique that I've only previously heard referred to as Noodle Boy/Girl: basically acting boneless so no one can physically make you do anything. Try it, it works. Though it didn't work on Don't, come to think of it).

I've been searching for new ways to eat cabbage for a couple of years now. You know why: cabbage is supposed to be very good for you in the anti-cancer department. Apparently it's because cabbage contains something that your body metabolizes into something else called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which has been shown in clinical studies to prevent or even reverse the growth of pre-cancerous cells.

Do note that if you're just choking down some cabbage exclusively for its anti-cancer properties, don't boil it. Here's an excerpt from the study:

"Past studies have shown that consumption of Brassica vegetables decreases the risk of cancer. This is because of the high concentration in Brassicas of substances known as glucosinolates which are metabolized to cancer preventive substances known as isothiocyanates. However before this research it was not known how the glucosinolates and isothiocyanates were influenced by storage and cooking of Brassica vegetables.

The researchers, Prof Paul Thornalley from Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick and Dr Lijiang Song from the University of Warwick’s Department of Chemistry bought Brassica vegetables, (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and green cabbage) from a local store and transported them to the laboratory within 30 minutes of purchasing.

The effect of cooking on the glucosinolate content of vegetables was then studied by investigating the effects of cooking by boiling, steaming, microwave cooking and stir-fry.
Boiling appeared to have a serious impact on the retention of those important glucosinolate within the vegetables.

The loss of total glucosinolate content after boiling for 30 minutes was: broccoli 77%, Brussel sprouts 58%, cauliflower 75% and green cabbage 65%.
The effects of other cooking methods were investigated: steaming for 0–20 min, microwave cooking for 0–3 min and stir-fry cooking for 0–5 min. All three methods gave no significant loss of total glucosinolate analyte contents over these cooking periods."

Right, so where does roasting/braising fit in here. I imagine that it's OK.


The best cabbage dish we've ever made at home happened during one of our Mara's-thyroid-initiated cooking experiments. I can't remember the exact sequence of trial and error that led us to cabbage and cheese, but one evening we found ourselves making a noodle-less "lasagna": subbing cabbage leaves for the noodles, and keeping every thing else pretty much the same (red sauce, etc). I remember it being pretty surprisingly delicious, but I can't justify that kind of cheese consumption at the moment (lots of mozzarella and ricotta).

So I've been looking for healthy, interesting baked cabbage recipes for a while now, and then what do I spy in Signore Carluccio's book: something called zuppa di cavolo alla Canavesana. It's a cabbage soup, but one that's even more like a ribollita than the zuppa di pesce was, as you can see from the photo above. In fact, this is barely a soup at all..."it eats like a meal," as the Campbell's Chunky Soup commercials used to say.

Although if I recall correctly, back in my college days sometimes the Campbell's Chunky didn't really eat quite enough like a meal, especially after 18 beers and a pile of Kenny's weed. So at about 4am O'Neill and I would start making soup sandwiches using one of those electric sandwich toasters. Nature's Own multigrain bread and Campbell's Sirloin Burger soup was the most common combo (because these were almost always the sole contents of the pantry), maybe with a slice of Kraft American cheese in there as well. The results were...yeah. Not quite right, as far as food goes, but I believe that what we achieved in that toaster was in fact greater than the sum of its parts.


Antonio says that this is his sister's recipe, from an area in the Piemonte called the Canavese, near Torino. It looks like this recipe might also be called simply zuppa del Canavese. I didn't have fontina in the house (why not?) so I used a bit of leftover Reblochon, but a fraction of the quantity specified. We are trying to gently steer our way back to healthy eating, right. I probably used 100g of cheese total between the Parmesan and the Reblochon. In any event, the end result was very good and I'll be making it again. The buttered bread is an excellent idea. And long-cooked cabbage really does share some textural characteristics with baked pasta, for me at least, if I'm craving the latter sometimes the former will do just fine....plus there's cancer-fightin' enzymes 'n' shit in there.


zuppa di cavolo alla Canavesana.

1 head of cabbage, shredded
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 quart chicken broth
6 slices good bread
100g butter
50-100g parmiginano-reggiano, grated
50-100g fontina, sliced
5 oil-packed anchovies, chopped

Add the garlic to the chicken broth and gently steam the cabbage over the chicken broth for 20-30 minutes or until softish. I actually did a mix of simmering and steaming, but steaming is healthier...just want to make sure that not all of the broth evaporates.

Meanwhile, toast each slice of bread and butter it as if you don't care how much butter you're eating. Line a baking dish with half the buttered toast slices.

When the cabbage is soft, pour half the cabbage and broth over the toast in the baking pan. Add a good grating of black pepper here. Top with half the anchovies, half the fontina (if using), and half the parmesan. Then ad another layer of the remaining toast, cabbage, anchovies, and cheese on top.


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