Recipes: Soup, salad, and pasta — a Northern Italian menu for fall
Chestnut-apple soup, cabbage salad with crispy prosciutto, and a spinach and cheese infused pasta.
Tomatoes and olive oil are hallmarks of Southern Italian cooking, but in the north, along the borders with Switzerland and Austria, dairy, in the form of butter and cheese, figures more heavily. This autumnal menu, inspired by Northern Italy, features fall-like ingredients such as chestnuts and apples in the soup, cabbage and prosciutto in the salad, and — hello dairy — ricotta and fontina in a hearty baked pasta with spinach.
Makes about 2 quarts
A simple sprinkle of chopped parsley, and/or a very thin half-moon slice or two of apple, make nice, simple garnishes.
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 large sprigs fresh parsley, plus finely chopped parsley, for garnish, optional
Salt and pepper
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
2 1/2 cups (one 14.8-ounce jar) roasted chestnuts, chopped
1 pound sweet-tart local apples (about 2 medium), peeled, cored, and chopped, plus several very thin, half-moon apple slices, for garnish, optional
2 tablespoons Calvados, cognac, ,or brandy
2/3 cup half-and-half, or more, if necessary, to adjust consistency
In a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery, thyme, bay leaf, parsley sprigs, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are heated through, about 3 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-low, cover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have released their juices, about 8 minutes. Add the broth, 1 cup water, chestnuts, and chopped apples, adjust heat to medium-high, and bring to a strong simmer. Adjust the heat to very low, cover, and simmer until the chestnuts and apples are very tender, about 25 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and parsley.
In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree mixture (working carefully and in batches if using a blender) until smooth and uniform. Strain the pureed mixture if desired and return it to the pot if necessary, add the Calvados, half-and-half, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and the consistency with half-and-half, if necessary. Serve at once, garnishing each bowl with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and/or an apple slice or two, if using.
Savoy Cabbage Salad with Crisped Prosciutto and Vinegar
Makes about 9 cups
Adapted from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, this salad is meant to taste salty from the prosciutto and tangy from the vinegar.
Bastianich’s first choice of ham is speck, lightly cold smoked and spiced, with a prosciutto-like texture, that’s common in Austria and the north of Italy. I think prosciutto is a fine substitute though, especially since sauteing the ham masks its nuances.
1 1/4 pounds savoy cabbage (about 1/2 medium head), cored and thinly shredded (about 9 cups, lightly packed)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra, if desired
1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto or speck, cut into 1/2-inch strips (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons pressed or grated garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup snipped fresh chives
Place the cabbage in a large bowl and set aside.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the prosciutto or speck and cook, stirring frequently, until very crisp, about 7 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to paper towels to drain, leaving as much fat as possible in the skillet.
Return the skillet to medium heat, add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the onion mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste to the cabbage and toss to combine.
Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add the vinegar, and bring to a strong simmer. Cook, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen and dissolve the fond, until reduced by about a quarter, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pour the warm dressing over cabbage mixture and toss to combine. Add most of the prosciutto and chives and toss to combine. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and/or olive oil if necessary. Sprinkle with the remaining prosciutto and chives, and serve at once.
Tip: Savoy Cabbage
Baked Pasta with Spinach, Ricotta, and Fontina
Purists may question the liberal use of garlic in a recipe with a Northern Italian bent, but to me a dish like this would taste incomplete without it.
Prepare the spinach and pasta at the beginning so they’ll be ready when you need them.
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 medium onions, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 pounds frozen chopped spinach, cooked according to package directions, cooled, squeezed very dry, and fluffed to break up all clumps (about 4 cups)
12 ounces short, stubby, or tubular-shaped pasta, cooked just short of al dente, and drained
2 cups fresh ricotta, preferably whole milk
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated fontina (about 4 1/2 ounces)
In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot, until light gold, about 1 1/2 minutes longer. Whisking constantly, gradually add the half-and-half and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the nutmeg, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper and continue to cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot, until sauce thickens, about 1 1/2 minutes longer. Off the heat, add the Parmesan and spinach and stir to incorporate. Add the pasta and stir to incorporate. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. Smear a shallow 3-quart (13-by-9-inch) baking dish with the remaining butter. Scrape half the pasta mixture into the prepared dish, smooth it into an even layer, and dot with the ricotta. Add the rest of the pasta mixture, gently smooth the top, and sprinkle evenly with the fontina. Set the baking dish on the prepared sheet and bake until heated through and the cheese on top is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Rest the dish briefly and serve.