My Italian family can eat like the best of them. And those low-carbohydrate diets would last about 5 minutes in our kitchens. My cousin, Mia and I joke that we are on the ‘Anti-Atkins diet’ – all carbohydrates, all the time. Bread and pasta are our staples. This delight of a dish from the region of Gallura allows us to stick to our diets. Zuppa Gallurese isn’t actually a soup (although it does use broth) but a cross between a lasagna and a casserole, perhaps. (I have been told that the name derives from ‘inzuppare‘ which means ‘to soak’ in Italian.) It also isn’t only peasant food but served at weddings and feasts as well. It is a oozy combination of bread, cheese and more cheese snugly resting in a bath of warm, rich broth. In Sardinia, I have had this made with both stale wheat bread (more casserole) and their flatbread (more lasagna) known as Pane Carasau – crispy paper thin sheets of bread also called Carta da Musica (‘Sheet Music’). I have made this numerous times since returning from Sardinia – even in the heat of summer – and each time, there are lutsy sighs of pleasure emitted by my guests with each oozy, cheesey filled bite. Be sure and use a crusty Italian bread that is up to the challenge of a good bath of broth. (Its American counterpart would never be able to fill its proverbial culinary shoes.) The first few times I made this I was missing the firmness of the pane carasau. So I have modified this a bit and added a toast to the bread followed by a swish of garlic clove prior to assembling. Be prepared for a few extra turns on the treadmill after eating – it is worth every waistline-expanding calorie. This is the perfect comfort food as the months turn to fall here in the East. I have seen Italian recipe modifications that include everything from pesce (fish) to menta (mint) to the wonderful finocchio selvatico (wild fennel). So experiment and let me know the result. Enjoy….
Off to the garden to pick some tomatoes so we can make a Roasted Fresh Tomato sauce for the Sardinian Culurgiones that we will make later in the week! Culurgiones are a puffy ravioli oozing with sheep’s milk cheese, potato and mint..yummmmm….. A presto!
Prep time: About 30 minutes
Preheat over to 375 degrees.
Note: This isn’t a recipe where you need to use exact amounts. You want more cheese, throw it in. You want less layers of bread, so be it. (This also makes it a great recipe to make with budding young chefs.) You can vary the cheeses to suite your tastes. However, it is important to use soft cheeses like the fontina and young pecorino. The softer cheese melts in the broth and becomes wonderfully creamy. I have tried to include approximate amounts that I used for a 10 by 7 inch dish.
I also photographed the ingredients (artfully-arranged for your pleasure) so you can also see how much I used. (Ok,ok, I am new to photographing food so bear with me until I get the hang of it!!)
Stale Italian bread
Pecorino Fresco, about 1/2 lb. (any young cheese, not very aged)
Fontina, about 1/2 lb. (any soft cheese; I like the buttery flavor of Fontina)
Parmigiano cheese, about 6 ounces (or any aged cheese like Pecorino Stagionato; needs to be gratable like Parmagiano)
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
Rich beef broth; used about 6 cups (can also use lamb broth if you can find it)
Bring the broth to a boil in a pot. Slice the bread as thick or thin as you would like. (I like to slice mine on the thick side). Toast under broiler or on grill. When toasted, rub a garlic clove across the bread while still warm to give it a hint of garlicky flavor. Grate all the cheeses into separate bowls. Pick your ovenproof dish in which to assemble.
Chop parsley and add to freshly grated Parmagiano. Add black pepper to taste.
Place slices of bread on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle half of the Pecorino Fresco over the bread. Then sprinkle half of the Parmigiano over the bread. Repeat for a second layer – bread, Pecorino, Parmigiano. Add another layer of bread.
Ladle the hot broth over it until the bread is all wet. Sprinkle the top with the Fontina cheese.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes until all the cheese is melted. (Baking time will vary based on size of pan you are using.)
Let rest for a tad and enjoy!