Cassoeula (pronounced [kaˈsøːla]), sometimes Italianized as cassola, cazzuola or cazzola (Western Lombard word for “trowel“, etymologically unrelated), or bottaggio (probably derived from the French word potage) is a typical winter dish popular in Western Lombardy. The dish has a strong, decisive flavour, and was a favourite of conductor Arturo Toscanini. One writer describes it as a “noble, ancient Milanese dish”, and writes of the inexpressible “pleasure that it furnishes the soul as well as the palate, especially on a wintry day”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassoeula
“What’s this?” you’re saying? “A recipe that doesn’t have beans?”
Well, if you’ve read my about page, you’ll know that beans aren’t really the point of this little adventure. I’ve just been making recipes for the dishes referenced as I go link hopping down the Wikipedia habit hole that starts with the page List of Foods. The first section of that list is legumes, so since it alliterates nicely with my name I chose Lorin Cooks Legumes as my blog name- I mean, let’s face it, there’s a good chance I’ll get tired of this project, or die, before I actually get through all the legume lists (especially if I go back to keep up with pages that have had things added to them…). But that also means that if I come across a page that references some non-bean dishes I might go make them. Like this one.
The specific link Wikipedia makes between cassoeula and bean dishes, is claiming that any dish that combines pork with vegetables, including beans, almost anywhere in Europe, can be linked to Roman influence. I’m not a food historian, but this seems like bullshit to me. The three things needed to “invent” this tradition are cooking pots, pigs, and edible plants. I’m fairly certain that there were cooking vessels in use across Europe well before the Romans. I don’t think that pigs are native to Italy, but even if they are I don’t believe that they hadn’t been introduced to other parts of Europe by then. And well, we’ve been eating plants since before we were humans. Even if domesticated swine were a Roman innovation, we’ve probably been hunting wild boar almost as long as we’ve been eating plants. So no one before the Romans thought to stew the pork with some vegetables? Yes, the colonization of the rest of Europe by Rome probably had a lot of influence on the culinary world, and it’s probably safe to say that many of the similar pork and bean dishes across the former Roman empire were influenced by Roman tastes. But to say that any dish that combines pork with something that comes from a plant points to Roman influence seems absurd.
That said, this dish is Italian, and for the most part sticks to ingredients that would have been available to the Romans, so it probably does date back that far.
Cassoeula is a winter dish from Lombardy, particularly Milan. It’s traditionally made around the feast day of Saint Anthony the Abbot on January 17th (Hey, look at that- I actually managed to make a seasonal dish at the appropriate time of year). This was traditionally the end of the pig butchering season, and this dish makes use of all the parts of the pig that aren’t worth trying to preserve- feet, ears, snouts, rind, tail, ribs…
In modern times there are recipes that leave out the offal and just use nice cuts of pork, or beef, lamb, or even goose. But I’ve stuck to tradition and included some of the “nasty bits” If you have a good butcher shop near by you can usually get pigs feet- and I even regularly find them in one of the grocery stores here in town. (Feet of any animal are great for making stock, as they have a lot of collagen and gelatin in them to add flavor and body.) Many butcher shops sell smoked pigs ears as dog treats, and if you catch them before they smoke them all you can get a fresh one. I failed to get back up to my local butcher they day they said they would have fresh ones in, and they went ahead and smoked them all, so I wound up ordering from Rancho Llano Seco*, where I also got my pork skin. Most of the recipes I looked at seemed to leave these in relatively large pieces, but I’m not a big fan of the texture of ears and boiled skin, or of picking all the little foot bones out of my mouth, so I shredded the ears and skin pretty finely, and picked the meat off the foot before serving. With this method, and nearly three hours of cooking, I don’t even notice the ears and skin among the cabbage.
The one ingredient that all cassoeula recipes have in common is cabbage. Traditionally you wait until after the first hard frost of winter to make cassoeula, because this sweetens the cabbage and reduces the cooking time. I considered sticking my head of grocery store cabbage out on the back porch the night before, but forgot about it- and I’m not sure that a below zero Minnesota January night would have the same effect on an already harvested cabbage as leaving it in the garden to get frosted in Northern Italy.
There are two types of Sausage in this dish. Luganighe, as best I can tell, has pretty much the flavors your standard “Italian” sausage here in the USA, although I think traditionally it’s made in a narrower casing and formed in a long spiral. Since I only call for a small amount I just got a couple Italian sausages at the meat market and called it good.
Verzini sausage, on the other hand, is more of a specialty product, local to Lombardi that is almost always served with cabbage. It’s a pork sausage, flavored with red wine, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander and mace. I could only find one website anywhere that sold it, and they were a European outfit, so I made my own! I followed this recipe from Manu’s Menu. (While you’re there, check out her cassoeula recipe as well.) It’s a slightly unusual flavor, but works well with the cabbage. My only addition to the instructions in the recipe would be to chill your sausage mixture and tools before filling the casings. The mixture got pretty sticky and was slow to move through my grinder. Although I don’t think there’s really a close substitute, you could use some other sort of sausage.
As I said above, almost all the ingredients would have been available to the Romans. The one exception is the tomato sauce. This is, of course, the controversial ingredient, with purists saying it doesn’t belong. But most people seem to add just a touch for color- the dish definitely doesn’t taste tomatoey.
You’re probably wondering how this dish relates to Cassoulet, that wonderful French bean and pork dish. Well, they’re both named after the dish they are traditionally cooked in of course. There seems to be quite a few traditional dishes in Europe that follow this naming protocol, especially among bean dishes. Off the top of my head, so far for this blog I’ve done Cassoulet, Tavce Gravce, the Bean Jar and Bean Crock of Guernsey and Jersey, and I suppose Maine Bean Hole kind of falls in that category. So that’s six, counting this post?
I can’t say this is any where near in the running for the best thing I’ve ever cooked. Let’s face it, it’s boiled cabbage and pig parts. But served up with some soft polenta, a glass of wine, and some good company it’s a good hearty, warming, dish for a winter day.
Prep: 20-30 minutes
3 ½ oz. pork rind, cleaned
1 pork trotter
1 small pig’s ear
1 ½ Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 ⅓ Tablespoons butter
20 oz. pork ribs, cut (about ½ rack)
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
4-5 verzini sausages
2-3 small salami, sliced
6 oz. luganighe sausage (or Italian sausage)
½ large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 ½ carrots, diced
3 Tablespoons tomato puree
⅓ cup white wine
⅔ cup beef broth, plus more as needed
1 medium savoy cabbage, chopped
1 lb. pork butt, cubed
½ lb bacon end, chopped
1 small shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Vegetable stock, in place of beef
½ Tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon lemon zest
6 sage leaves
½ sprig rosemary
1 teaspoon anise seed
½ teaspoon juniper berries
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 small pig tail
1 small pig snout
If necessary, sear the pork rind, trotter and ear over an open flame to remove any hairs. Wipe clean, and place in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and simmer for about 1 hour to remove excess fat. Drain. Slice rind and ear into thin slices.
Heat oil and butter in a heavy pan. Season the ribs with salt and pepper, and brown the ribs and sausages. Set aside. Add onion to the pot and sauté for a few minutes, until it begins to brown. Add the carrots and celery, along with the chopped pork rind, ear and trotter. Cook for a few minutes, then add the tomato puree and return the ribs to the pot. Deglaze with wine and cook until it has nearly evaporated, then add beef broth and cover. Cook over low heat for 1 hour or so, stirring occasionally and adding additional broth if needed to prevent the meat from sticking. (Do keep an eye on this- as the broth evaporates the gelatin from the pork parts will stick, even as it looks like there’s still plenty of liquid bubbling away).
Rinse the chopped cabbage, and drain quickly, allowing excess water to remain on the cabbage.
Once the ribs are just about tender, add the cabbage to the pot and place the sausages on top. Cover and continue to simmer for another 45 minutes or so, until ribs are tender.
Taste for seasoning and serve with soft polenta.
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