By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 28, 2008 at 8:15 AM

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Eldina Long and Erica Malan of Italy's Gruppo Teatro Angrogna, from the town of Angrogna in the Val Pellice west of the Piedmontese capital of Turin, were at Festa Italiana this year to do demonstrations of the classic "cucina povera" soup from their area.

The Waldensian soup (or supa Barbetta, in regional parlance) is based on stale bread -- like many poor dishes across Italy -- and for centuries nourished the Valdesi, a group of Protestants long persecuted -- in some places exterminated -- across Europe.

We've had some requests to print the recipe for the supa Barbetta now that Festa is over and so we honor that request here.

Although the ingredients are basic, the soup is not only hearty but flavourful, thanks especially to the cheese and the spices. The traditional soup calls for Toma, a Piemontese cheese that usually can be found in Milwaukee at places like Sendik's on Downer, Whole Foods, V. Richard's and other specialty markets. If you can't find it, you can use any good, white melting cheese, although the flavor will be different.

Similarly, tradition calls for stale bread sticks, but if you can't get those, you can use stale bread. But, it is key to use bread or bread sticks from a bakery (even one at your local grocery store will do). Factory made breads just don't have the flavor or the texture.

A quick note on the name. Barba in Piemontese means "uncle." While Catholics call their priests "Father," the Valdesi call their "Uncle." It is from this tradition that the name of the soup derives.

Remember also that true Italian cooking isn't obsessed with weights and measures. Therefore, this recipe, which comes directly from Long and Malan trusts you can work out the basics. It's easy, do don't worry and just dive in.

Supa Barbetta

One head on cabbage (cleaned and leaves separated)
Stale bread sticks or bread (sliced)
Toma cheese (cubed)
Parmigiano-Reggiano (grated)
Chicken stock (homemade is best, but canned is OK)

To begin, warm the broth in a saucepan.

Meanwhile, grease a soup pot -- preferably copper or earthenware -- with butter and cover the bottom with cabbage leaves to prevent the soup from sticking.

Put a layer of stale bread and sprinkle with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg (equal parts of cinnamon and nutmeg and a bit less cloves), salt and black pepper. Then spread a handful of cubed cheese over the top and sprinkle some Parmigiano. Add another layer of bread and continue the process until the pot is about four-fifths full.

Add the hot broth to the soup pot to cover the layers and cook the soup on a low flame for at least two hours. Gently shake the pot a bit occasionally, but resist the temptation to stir the soup. Stirring will break the bread or breadsticks. Don't worry, the cabbage will suffer so that the soup doesn't.

When the soup is just about ready, heat a knob of butter and add a twig of rosemary and a few sage leaves. When the butter is browned, remove the spices and pour the butter over the supa and serve.

The number of servings depends on how big a pot you make!

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.