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Ultimate Alpine Bread Soup

Garlic-scented bread is layered with cabbage, half caramelized onions, broth and cheese. The crunchy golden top puffs like a souffle. For a very substantial meal, place a grilled Italian sausage into each bowl when serving. The soup can be assembled the day before. In a pinch it can be baked the day before and reheated to puff again. Imported Italian Fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano are essential.

1 pound Savoy cabbage, about one small head, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup olive oil
6 to 8 slices day-old country bread
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
5 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
4 to 6 Italian sausages, optional
1/3 pound Fontina or Tallegio cheese, shredded
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 tablespoons additional
Large pinch ground cloves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Parboil the cabbage 1 to 2 minutes; drain. Combine the two cheeses except for 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Peel and crush the garlic with the side of a cleaver. Melt 3 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil in a small heavy skillet. Add the garlic. Simmer for a few minutes. Brush bread with this mixture and bake in a 375-degree oven until golden and dried out, 20 minutes.

Warm 3 tablespoons butter in a large heavy skillet, add the onions and salt and cook over very low heat about an hour, stirring occasionally. The onions will be somewhat browned and reduced in bulk.

Transfer onions to a soup kettle. Clean skillet with a bit of the broth, scraping up any browned bits, and add it and remainder of the broth to the kettle.

In a large, high-sided tureen or ovenware bowl, make a layer of cabbage and a layer of bread seasoned with fresh pepper and ground cloves. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese. Bathe the layers with a couple ladlesful of broth/onion mixture. Continue layering until you have used all the bread. Finish with cheese, then final ladlesful of broth. Soup can be completed to this point the day before.

Bake until the broth has been largely absorbed, at least 2 hours, and the cheese and bread on top has formed a golden-brown crust. Check at 45 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover lightly with aluminum foil. Serve, dividing the crusty topping among heated bowls. Serves 6.

"Celebrating Italy" by Carol Field

Thursday, February 15, 2001

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