During our recent trip to Italy, we found, once again, that many of the more memorable dishes are also the simplest.
We were in Rome and found that the cuisine of the “Eternal City” remains solidly based on the peasant tradition of the farmers in the surrounding countryside of Lazio. Grilled meat and fish are served with simply prepared, perfectly fresh vegetables in local trattorias and in the finest restaurants, and the pastas and soups remain uncomplicated renditions of traditional recipes.
This is honest and unpretentious food, distinguished by the quality of the ingredients and careful attention to detail in its preparation, such as in Pasta Amatriciana, where pancetta, onion, and tomatoes come together in a perfect sauce.
Stracciatella is so simple to make that no recipe is really needed once a cook is familiar with its preparation. Its success depends on a well-made rich chicken stock (some make it with meat stock), fresh eggs, and well-aged Parmesan cheese mixed with fresh breadcrumbs. I like to serve it to guests as a first course because it is light and full of flavor and can be prepared in minutes.
We never roast a chicken without making a stock for the freezer, so this soup requires only heating the stock and mixing in the other ingredients at serving time.
When I make it, I think of a kitchen in Italy, where a fowl had been poached in water, which then became a broth. The broth is then intensified by returning the bones to the pot after the fowl had been eaten. This is somewhat unorthodox, but I find it produces a combination of broth and stock with rich flavor, and I’m quite certain that frugal Italian cooks do the same.
The broth/stock is boiled, uncovered, with a carrot, onion, and celery stalk so that it reduces and concentrates flavor. This is best made with free-range organic chickens, which fortunately are becoming more available locally.
Makes Four Servings:
- 1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 extra large fresh eggs
- 6 cups chicken stock
- Sea salt and freshly ground peppercorns, preferably white
- Chopped parsley
Bring the stock to a boil, and then reduce the heat so that it is just simmering. Mix the Parmesan cheese with the breadcrumbs, and mix the eggs with a fork until just beaten. Mix the beaten eggs with the cheese and breadcrumbs.
Add 1/2 cup of stock to the egg mixture and stir until well blended; add it to the simmering stock. Taste the soup, adding salt and pepper as needed. Whisk the stock gently to break up the mixture and ladle it into soup bowls, garnishing with a pinch of chopped parsley.This elemental soup is a classic example of how a few harmonious ingredients can combine to produce a flavorful dish where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. In spite of its humble origin, this soup is a great first course for even special occasion dinners.
Charlie Burke is a freelance writer, organic farmer, and cook living in the New England area. For more recipes visit: www.TheHeartofNewEngland.com
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