For some Milan inhabitants, the gargantuan star-shaped lights floating above Corso Como mark the official start of winter while for others, it’s weekend ski getaways in the Alps. However for those who measure their year in food, winter has officially arrived when cassoeula begins cameoing on restaurant menus across town.
At first glance–or even first sound—the word cassoeula might not seem typically Italian, but this Lombardian pork and cabbage stew is undoubtedly so. Also known as cazzuola or cazzola, cassoeula’s name is derived from the word cazzuola, the trowel used by the masons to mix the hearty preparation.
Accounts of cassoeula’s origins vary; some trace it as far back as antiquity while others say it dates back to the city’s 16th century Spanish rule, during which a Spanish soldier taught the recipe to his Milanese paramour, a cook for a noble family. She then prepared the dish for her employers who loved it so much that it became their banquet plat du jour.
In the no-food-goes-wasted philosophy that applies to head-to-tail Italian recipes, cassoeula highlights the less noble pork cuts, ensuring that all the bits and pieces from the pig slaughter are used: head, feet, skin, ears and more. Regional and personal recipes vary, but cabbage and sausage are staples. Traditionally, cassoeula is consumed on January 17th, the feast day of Saint Anthony the Abbot–the patron saint of butchers and all things swine–fittingly timed with the end of the pig slaughter. Some say the dish was created specifically for his feast day.
Regardless of its origins, cassoeula is here! With the days of the blackbird fast approaching, here are five of the best restaurants in Milan to partake in this delightful winter stew.
A Milan native himself, chef Cesare Battisti has, in a sense, revived la cucina Milanese, and not just through his innovative takes on the city’s classic flavors but also by celebrating local bounty. His cassoeula merits a trip to the restaurant in and of itself. In fact, he even sells T-shirts in cassoeula’s honor!
Via Gaetano de Castillia, 28 – Tel. +39 02 8712 8855
Since its June debut, chef Diego Rossi and Pietro Caroli’s Trippa has proven a force to reckoned with. Veneto born Rossi serves a menu heavily inspired by his roots as well as Northern Italy, so winter at Trippa wouldn’t be complete without the season’s signature dish.
Via Giorgio Vasari, 3 – Tel. +39 327 668 7908
Chef Matteo Fronduti offers an atypical twist on cassoeula by lightening it up a tad. He implements all of the same cuts, save the ears, having cooked each separately and placing them atop a bed of braised cabbage.
Piazzale Governo Provvisorio, 6 – Tel. +39 0226809153
Every Italian city has a trattoria that expresses the city’s classic plates through straightforward and traditional preparations and in Milan, it’s Antica Trattoria della Pesa. In addition to the cassoeula, you’ll find typical plates like risotto alla Milanese, the veal cutlet, ossobuco and more.
Via Pasubio 10, Milano – Tel. +39 02 655 5741
This gem is as equally old school as Antica Trattoria della Pesa, but with a touch of Piedmont. This trattoria is also a must for some of the city’s distinct flavors and its cassoeula won’t disappoint as it’s served with the signature luscious polenta.
Viale Umbria, 80 – Tel. +39 02 55184138
Images courtesy of Trippa – Ratanà – Manna – Antica Trattoria della Pesa – Trattoria Masuelli
After an arduous long distance love affair with Italy, Jackie picked up and moved to Il Bel Paese in 2013, spending one year in Rome before making Milan her home. Prior to her expat existence, she spent nearly a decade on New York City’s restaurant scene, where she did everything from waiting tables to public relations to special events, having worked at NoMad, BeccaPR and B.R. Guest Hospitality. She is one of the founders of Sauce Milan, a food tour company and English-language website dedicated to Milan’s food and beverage culture, and she contributes to Food Republic, Fathom and Swide. She chronicles her expat (mis!)adventures on her blog, Romesick & Loving it.