At agriturismo “Il Muto di Gallura” we enjoyed Zuppa Gallurese con ghisatu. This is a local dish from the area of Gallura in the North-West of Sardinia. It is actually the combination of two dishes.
Zuppa Gallurese is a kind of savory bread pudding that is baked in the oven and made with stale bread, mutton stock, and cheese. To make proper Zuppa Gallurese you will need mutton stock and two Sardinian cheeses: pecorino sardo (Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese) and casizolu (a Sardinian cow’s milk cheese that is like unsmoked scarmoza). I did manage to acquire mutton bones to make mutton stock, but beef stock or a mixture of lamb stock and beef stock could be substituted. Pecorino sardo is quite easily available here, but I had to substitute the casizolu with regular unsmoked scamorza. The dish came out just as delicious as I remembered it from Il Muto di Gallura.
Ghisadu is the local name for a spezzatino (stew of diced meat) with tomatoes, wine, and aromatics. It was spelled as Ghisatu at the agriturismo, but Ghisadu seems to be the more common spelling. They were both very good by themselves, but together it was great comfort food.
The amounts are sufficient for a primo piatto for 6 to 8. The ghisadu can also be served without the zuppa as a primo piatto; in that case use only 1 can of tomatoes.
For the ghisadu
- 700 grams (1.5 lbs) stewing beef such as chuck
- 2 cans peeled tomatoes (400 grams/14 oz each), pureed with a blender or food processor
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 6 mirto berries (optional)
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- pinch of saffron threads
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) red wine
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
For the zuppa gallurese
- about 300 grams (10 oz) stale white (Italian) bread, sliced
- about 300 grams (10 oz) pecorino sardo or other sheep’s milk cheese
- about 300 grams (10 oz) casizolu or unsmoked scamorza
- 3/4 to 1 litre (3 to 4 cups) mutton stock, or lamb stock mixed with beef stock, or beef stock
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mutton stock
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) mutton bones (or beef bones and/or lamb bones)
- about 100 grams each of chopped onion, chopped celery, and chopped carrot (this is about 1 medium onion and a similar amount of celery and carrot)
- 1 bay leaf
- handful of fresh parsley
- 2 sundried tomatoes, chopped
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
Instructions for the mutton stock
I doubled the recipe and made twice the amount, freezing the half I did not need.
Preheat the oven at 190C/375F. Pat the mutton bones dry with paper towels. Place the bones in a large roasting tray, in which they can fit in a single layer. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil on top, and toss the bones to coat them all over with a thin layer of olive oil. Roast the bones for half an hour at 190C/375F. This roasting step is optional, but will give the stock a deeper flavor.
Place the roasted bones in a large stock pot or pressure cooker.
Deglaze the roasting tray with 1 litre (4 cups) of boiling water, and scrape with a wooden spatula to get all of the bits that got stuck to the roasting tray. Do not use cold water, because then the drippings in the roasting pan will solidify and you won’t be able to get all of the flavor out of the pan.
Add the water from the roasting tray to the stock pot or pressure cooker, and add all of the remaining ingredients.
Cover, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 4 hours, or bring to pressure and pressure cook for 2 hours. Pressure cooking is not only faster, but it will also get you a higher yield of stock (more about that in this article).
The mutton stock will need to be filtered and the fat will need to be separated out before it is ready to use.
Filter the mutton stock with a sieve, discarding the solids.
Allow the mutton stock to cool off, first to room temperature and then in the refrigerator. The fat will float on top and will solidify, so it will be quite easy to take it off with a spoon. Do not discard the fat, but reserve it to grease the oven dish for the zuppa gallurese.
Instructions for the ghisadu
The beef should be cut in steaks of about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) thick. Do not cut the beef into cubes at this point. Steaks are much quicker and easier to brown than cubes, as cubes would need to be turned individually and will release more liquid, making it impossible to brown the beef without boiling it first and thus drying it out.
Pat the beef dry with paper towels for better browning. Season the beef with salt immediately before searing, or at least an hour before. Salt will initially draw out moisture, but it will be reabsorbed over time. Salt enhances the flavor development of browning, so salting before searing is better than after.
Brown the beef on both sides over high heat in 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole or Dutch oven. The meat should remain raw on the inside, but get a nice sear on the outside.
Take the beef out of the pan and set aside on a plate to cool. Add a chopped onion to the pan in which you seared the meat without cleaning it first. Season the onions with some salt (this will help to soften them without frying them).
Stir the onions over medium heat, scraping with a wooden spatula to release all of the browned bits from the pan, until the onions are soft and slightly golden, about 10 minutes.
Place a pinch of saffron threads in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Allow to stand for a couple of minutes.
When onions are soft and golden, add the bay leaves and rosemary, and stir for another minute, enjoying the nice aroma.
Add a minced clove of garlic, and stir for another minute over medium heat. Do not allow the garlic to brown.
Deglaze with 120 ml of red wine.
Add 6 mirto berries (if using), and allow the wine to reduce by half to get rid of the alcohol.
Add 2 cans of peeled tomatoes, pureed in a food processor or with a blender. (Use only 1 can if serving the ghisadu as a secondo piatto rather than as sugo to serve over zuppa gallurese.)
Season with freshly ground black pepper.
Add the water with saffron.
In the meantime, the seared meat should have cooled off enough to be able to handle it. Transfer the meat to a cutting board, and pour the juices that will have leaked out of the meat to the pan with the tomatoes. (Those juices are proof that searing the meat does not “seal in the juices”.)
Dice the meat. If you seared it correctly, it should be rare on the inside.
Add the diced meat to the pan.
Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a very slow simmer.
Cover and allow to simmer, stirring regularly and topping op with hot water as needed to keep the meat covered, until the meat is tender. This can take 4 hours or more. When the ghisadu is done, taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaf and mirto berries (if using).
(I have been using sous vide for stews like this, and I must say that compared to sous vide, I find this process rather tedious. You have to keep tending the pot to make sure it doesn’t burn or dry out, and to check whether it is done already. And despite all your efforts the meat could still turn out dry or tough. With sous vide you can just vacuum seal the meat with the sauce, put it in the sous vide at 74C/165F, and forget about it for about 24 hours, and it will always come out perfect. So next time I will do this sous vide again.)
Instructions for the zuppa gallurese
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
Use some of the mutton fat that you reserved from the stock to grease a 20 by 20 cm (8 by 8 inch) oven dish. Use butter or olive oil if you don’t have the mutton fat.
Slice the bread into slices of barely 1 cm thick, about 1/3 inch. You should end up with enough slices to make three layers in the oven dish.
Grate the two cheeses, and add plenty of freshly ground black pepper, then stir to mix in the pepper. The scamorza/casizolu can be difficult to grate, so you can also chop it with a knife.
Place a layer of bread in the oven dish.
Cover the bread with 1/3 of the cheese in an even layer.
Add a second layer of bread, the second layer cheese, a and a third layer of bread.
Now drizzle mutton stock all over the bread. Add as much mutton stock as needed, but do not let it overflow the oven dish.
Finish with a final layer of cheese.
Bake the zuppa gallurese in the oven at 200C/400F for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
Allow the zuppa to cool off for a couple of minutes before serving.
Cut the zuppa into rectangular servings, and serve as is or with ghisadu on top.
A Cannonau di Sardegna (cannonau is the Sardinian name for grenache/garnacha) would be the most appropriate pairing for this dish, but many other Italian reds will work very well.