TGIF, Lidia Bastianich – Bread & Cabbage Soup

Growing up without cable made for a lot of pop culture miss-outs and PBS-watching. We still had TGIF, obviously, but unless mom and dad were out, we weren’t allowed to watch Perfect Strangers (too…uh…sexy?), Step by Step (divorce!!!), and some episodes of Dinosaurs (the demanding baby, I think, and the episode where the teenage son does drugs. Oh, and the tarpit). I’d like to say I was uninfluenced by my childhood TV watching, but seeing as how I now work in documentary film, it’s clear at least some of the PBS stuff seeped in.  Guess my parents were smarter than I thought at the time.

We still don’t have cable, and despite missing the occasional sports game or Food Network marathon, don’t really miss it. Matt hooked up a MacMini to the TV screen, so Netflix gets us movies and documentaries, Hulu gets us TV shows, and iTunes fills in any gaps.  But every now and then, when an open Saturday morning or afternoon presents itself, I’ll flip over to our basic TV and hope for the best.

Oh baby, just gimme a smorgasbord of Jacques and Julia, flirting like crazy despite the age difference, a dusting of the eternally stuffy-nosed Simply Ming, a tantalizing hint of Rick Steves washing his underwear in a sink in some German hostel, and the maraschino cherry on top – Lidia Bastianich, lording over her kitchen and her cooking guests with Italian grandmama pride – I’ll be in commercial-free bliss for hours.

Last year Lidia treated us to this heavy gem, and it’s become an annual tradition to make it when the temperatures dip. If you can catch the episode, do watch it, and shout like we did as she adds more cheese, more bread??, MORE cheese???!?, more broth?, even MORE CHEESE?!.  The book recipe is marginally less decadent, but regardless, it’s a warm, cheesy, broth-y, filling dish where you pack on one layer of food-comfort after another.

Gallurese Bread & Cabbage Soup
Recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy 

Approximately 12 slices whole-wheat country bread, cut 1/2 inch thick
Small head of Savoy cabbage
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound chunk mild provolone (she says not aged, but we mixed mild and aged at a ratio of 3:1, and it was good. We also didn’t use a full pound…)
1 tablespoon soft butter for the baking dish
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino
4 cups chicken stock

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toast slices of bread in the preheating oven, turning them when one side starts to brown. When they are fully toasted, remove from oven and set aside.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Slice the cabbage head in half, cut out the core completely. Discard all rough and torn outer leaves, lay the cabbage cut side down, and slice crosswise into 1-inch strips.  Drop these into the boiling water and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Pour into colander, rinse with cool water, and then put in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and olive oil. Toss.

Slice the chunk of provolone into slabs about 1/3 inch thick. Butter the sides and bottom of a large baking dish.

Assemble the casserole: layer bread slices at the bottom, trimming the pieces as needed to fit snugly and fill any gaps. Spread half the cabbage strips in a layer over the bread. Lay the provolone slabs on top of the cabbage in one layer. Sprinkle on half the grated cheese. Next, layer the remaining cabbage, and top with the remaining bread.

Press down gently on the layers with your palm to compress them. Slowly pour the stock all over the bread and down the insides of the pan, so everything is moistened. Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese over the top.

Cover the dish with a tented layer of foil so it doesn’t touch the surface of the food, put the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue baking until the top of the casserole is golden brown.

Serve hot.