A few weeks ago, my fiancé and I went to visit his mother in the same town outside of Paterson, New Jersey, where he grew up. Because he knows I live for these things, we swung by the small, family-owned butcher shop where he used to buy fruit-flavored German taffy growing up. Once I saw the words "homemade bologna" plastered above the door, nothing was going to keep me from going inside.
While small and somewhat sparsely stocked, the Haledon Pork Store -- as any good Sopranos fan would expect -- carries the requisite range of homemade sausages (both fresh and dried), locally made marinara and other Italian specialties. However, along the back wall, among the bags of imported dried pasta and boxed tiramisu mix, I came across a few ingredients I'd never seen before -- including a bag of something that looked a little like yellow Grape Nuts. The package included the words "egg barley" and explained that this bag of shriveled little nuggets had originated in Hungary.
We walked out with a dried landjaeger sausage and a small packet of some sort of smoked salami for my fiancé, and 1/4 pound of the homemade bologna and a packet of the yellow Grape Nuts for me. I did some research when I got home and discovered that the egg barley, also know as tarhonya, is a popular Eastern European egg pasta. It's typically sautéed in butter and then braised in a little bit of broth, but it can also just be boiled and added to soup. Which is just what I decided to do with it. In honor of the Haledon Pork Store's Italian owners, I thought I'd boil up some of my newly acquired egg barley and incorporate it into a simple version of straciatella, or Italian egg drop soup, which my mother used to make a lot while I was growing up. It's a savory, comforting soup that pleases kids and adults alike, and the addition of the egg pasta transforms it into something hearty enough to serve as a meal. If your local pork store doesn't carry egg barley, this soup would be almost as good with orzo or ditalini or any other small dried pasta.
Egg Barley Stracciatella
5 1/2 cups homemade or very good quality chicken broth
1/3 cup egg barley, orzo or other small dried pasta
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring 5 cups of the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan, reserving the remaining 1/2 cup in a medium bowl.
2. Add the egg barley or orzo, or whatever you're using, to the boiling broth and lower the heat so that it simmers steadily. Cook the pasta until just al dente (the egg barley should take 12 to 14 minutes; refer to the package for cooking instructions for other pastas).
3. While the pasta is cooking, whisk together the remaining stock, eggs, parmesan, parsley, nutmeg, salt to taste and a few generous grinds of pepper. When the pasta is just cooked, slowly pour the egg mixture into the boiling soup, whisking constantly. The soup will now look kind of creamy, and it will stop simmering temporarily. Keep whisking for a minute or two, until the soup returns to a simmer and the egg begins to coagulate in shaggy little clumps. Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary, and then serve immediately with some more grated parmesan and black pepper on the side.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).