Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: The Italian word for chicken noodle soup.
A classic dish from Emilia-Romagna, passatelli in brodo does much what chicken noodle soup does -- it's warming, simple, and comforting. It's a dish that usually makes an appearance on the Christmas or Easter table, a satisfying but easygoing dish that sits between more elaborate and hearty courses. It often inspires nostalgia in many Italians from this region, as well as around Le Marche, Umbria and Rome.
The typical recipe that most use today doesn't stray very far from that of the great-grandfather of Italian cooking, Pellegrino Artusi. A native of Emilia-Romanga himself, Artusi in fact includes two variations for “minestra di passatelli” plus a version of passatelli made with semolina in his 1891 cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.
It's a rustic and thrifty dough made with the crumbs of stale bread, eggs, grated Parmesan, bone marrow (it helps make the passatelli tender), and a hint of either freshly grated nutmeg or lemon zest -- or both, depending on which side of Bologna you're in.
The dough is then pushed through a passatelli iron (the word passatelli comes from the word meaning to pass through) or, these days, a potato ricer with large holes, creating short, fat, rough spaghetti-like pasta, about one and a half inches long and about a quarter of an inch in diameter. They're cooked in homemade chicken broth and served with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
It's simple and literally takes about 15 minutes to prepare. The passatelli are best made fresh and cooked immediately; letting them dry will cause them to break up when cooking.
The following recipe is basically Artusi's first version, with butter replacing the bone marrow. If going the traditional route and using bone marrow, there's no need to melt it first; Artusi himself advises simply working it into a sort of paste by squashing and chopping with a knife.
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) fine bread crumbs
2 tablespoons (20 grams) butter
1/2 cup (40 grams) Parmesan cheese, grated
Freshly grated nutmeg or lemon zest, if desired
2 quarts (2 liters) chicken stock (homemade is best)
Photos by Emiko Davies