This dish is wholesome and rich — perfect for winter in the Alpine regions of Italy where it has its roots. Traditionally, the cooked pasta and vegetables are layered with the cheese and the caramelised butter poured over, but I prefer to emulsify the butter with water, and toss the ingredients together in a pan. Whilst no lighter, it certainly seems less greasy…
Make the dough by kneading the flours with 100ml water for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Roll just 1.5mm thick, using a little semola on a marble or wooden work surface to prevent sticking. Dust the sheet of pasta lightly with semola and cut into broad (8cm) ribbons. Stack these one atop the other, and cut across to make stubby, 2–2.5cm wide noodles.
Peel the potatoes and dice 5-10mm; roughly chop the cabbage into 2 x 4cm pieces. Shortly before you are to serve, put the potato and cabbage into a pot of boiling salted water. Cook for about 4 minutes, until the potato is partly cooked, then add the pasta into the same pot.
At about the same time as you put the vegetables on to boil, you should fry the garlic clove (crushed to break, but still whole) in the butter. Fry until the butter caramelises, discard the garlic (don’t discard the sage, if using) and add a small ladle or two (100ml) of the pasta water, shaking the pan to emulsify. It is best to let this boil, to make a proper emulsion – if it starts to boil dry and turn thicker than single cream, just add a touch more water.
When the pasta and potatoes are done (a couple of minutes), drain and toss in the sauce, seasoning with plenty of pepper, and salt only if necessary. Remove from the heat and stir in the fontina and half the grana. Leave to sit for a minute, for the cheese to melt, then serve with the remaining grana on top.
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