Once inhabited by Etruscans and Ligurians, the Divedro valley is one of the ancient routes across the Alps. Trekkers know its hidden secrets, especially the traditional dishes based on local produce, including the valley’s signature dish, a pot stew known as cuchêla.
Traditionally slow-cooked in a brunzin, the classical bronze cauldron, or in soapstone pots, the ingredients were layered and allowed to heat gently without any attention, except for the occasional shake of the pot. Discussions continue about the origins of the dish, whether it was a consequence of the arrival of the Spanish in the region, whether it pre-dated potatoes and was made with root and leaf vegetables and dried meat or whether it was adapted from stews made by travellers who came through the valley.
It is similar to the Castilian pot stew, Olla Podrida de Burgos, to the general Olla Podrida and even closer to the traditional stew of Madrid, Cocido Madrileño, which contains potatoes. These Iberian dishes feature chickpeas and white beans, which are not in the traditonal cuchêla.
Paola Caretti and Ivano Pollini, authors of Ancient Recipes of Valley d’Ossola, believe the Spanish influence is strong but admit that local tradition cannot be dismissed. The modern traditional Val Divedro version contains potatoes, pork ribs, fatty bacon, salami, herbs and vegetables of choice.
- 1 kg potatoes, whole
- 1 kg broccoli, whole / green cabbage
- 500 g onions, sliced
- 500 g pork ribs, in several pieces
- 500 g salamelle suino / pork sausages, grilled until brown, cooled
- 250 g carrots, cut into large pieces
- 250 g pancetta della Valdossola / fatty pancetta / pork belly, cubed
- 30 g butter / 30 ml sunflower oil
- Borage, Lovage, Marjoram, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, any quantity
- 5 g black pepper, large pinch 5 g salt, pinch
Sweat onions in butter or oil with the fatty bacon, pancetta or pork belly in a large deep heavy-bottomed pot for 30 minutes, add remaining ingredients, seal with a tight lid, and cook slowly for three hours, until the potatoes are cooked, and the meat is coming off the bones. For crispy ribs finish under a grill. if using herbs add them 30 minutes before the end of cooking.
The people of Domodossola, the major town of the Divedro Valley, are no longer as fond of cuchêla as they once were. A wine merchant we became acquainted with patted his stomach when we asked whether it was still regarded as a trusted traditional dish. In the street market one of the women in the food truck was not aware she had pancetta della Valdossola, the fatty pork belly that is an essential ingredient, on the shelf until we pointed it out. We made it with the local sausages and green cabbage, and with potatoes from further afield. It was delicious, and a long walk was required. Unfortunately the light did not allow us to take a photo of that particular creation. The featured photo is of an earlier version not made with the local Piedmont ingredients!