Cazzuola o Cassola (lit. "casserole") is a pork-and-cabbage-base dish typical of Brianza, a very beautiful hilly area north of Milan and between the two branches of Como's Lake (Lago di Como). Every time I visited my parents, my mother would prepare this family favorite for everyone. Now that my future visits to Italy are quite uncertain, I have decided to experiment in the kitchen and see if I could make it myself. I made it twice in the past month and both times it turned out excellent, which means, according to science, that it was no accident and that I can actually duplicate my initial success. :) The difficulty with this dish lays in finding the ingredients and in the amount of time they need to cook. Besides that, it is not very complicate to make and the final results is a true feast for all your taste buds. It is a dish that require faith also. The ingredients and process may not be very stimulating at first (my wife comment when she first saw me making it was: "...and we are going to eat THAT?!?!"). However, when I pulled it out from the oven and she tried some, I could not keep her away from it! The photos with this blog entry are from last week preparation, which was for a large dinner we had Sunday. The quantity of ingredients I used was for at least 12 adults (about 2-3 times the normal recipe for 4-6 people). So, the recipe I am describing here will serve 4 to 6, not the amount you see in the photos.
- Large slab of adult pork ribs (half rack)
- One package (5-6) fresh pork bratwursts
- One pig foot cut in two halves (don't freak out yet)
- 4-5 pieces of pork neck bones (OK, you can freak out now) :)
- One small onion
- 3 carrots
- 4 celery stalks
- One cup of white cooking wine
- One large green cabbage
- Half stick of butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2-3 Bullion cubes (optional)
Rinse the pig foot and place it in a large pot with the neck bones. Fill the pot with cold water until all pieces are covered and boil for one hour. I found pig feet and neck bones at Wal-mart in the fresh meat section. They are both fairly inexpensive (duh! - who really buys this stuff?!?!). The pig feet I got came already cleaned, halved, 5 pieces per tray (which is what I needed for the amount I was preparing). For the regular recipe you can boil two halves and freeze the rest, or boil all of them together for extra rich pork stock. My mother keeps the pig foot with the rest of the meat as my grandfather loves it. In my case, after the pork stock was ready, I only kept the neck bones (rich of meat) and got rid of the feet. The traditional recipe would ask for cotenna (pig skin) boiled with the pig foot. The boiling turns them into a tasty gelatin, but I just can't get myself to like the texture. That is why I replaced the skin with the neck bones. The end product is a rich, flavorful, and thick pork stock to be used for cooking the ribs, sausages, and cabbage.
In another large pot, melt the butter over medium heat with the finely chopped onion, until golden. Cut the meat as to have single rib pieces and cook with butter and onion. When the ribs are lightly brown, pour wine and keep cooking until it evaporates. Add finely chopped carrots and celery. Stir as to ensure all the ribs are cooking evenly. Chop the cabbage in large chunks, removing and disposing of the stem (the cabbage will eventually cook down to nothing, releasing much fluid to the juice). Add to ribs. Poke the bratwursts with a fork 3-4 times, cut them in three pieces, and place them with the cabbage and ribs. Add 3-4 cups of the pork stock, the halved foot (one or two pieces) and the neck bones). Cover and let it cook on low heat for another hour. From time to time, move the pieces of meat around as to ensure they cook evenly. If necessary, add more pork stock (you can then freeze the rest for soups). Add salt and pepper to taste.
After about one hour, transfer the content of the pot in one large oven Pyrex pan (9x13). For a more flavorful dish, you can crumble 2-3 small Bullion cubes on the top of the meat. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 300 for another hour. After about half hour, check to ensure that the meat on the top is not getting too dry. Use a spoon to pour some of the juice on the top or move meat around carefully. Continue to cook until the meat is basically falling off the bones. I like my meat well done so I tend to cook it a little longer. Remove foil if you desire your meat a little more dry (which provides a contrast to the more juicer pieces at the bottom of the pan).
Cassola is traditionally served on a bed of Polenta (corn mash), which can be prepared about 5 minutes before serving the meat. (Note that in the picture I am only showing one of the two Pyrex pans I obtained with the larger amount of ingredients I used for my dinner. One Pyrex pan should be sufficient for the amount of ingredients listed for this blog entry).