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Egg drop soup: Rachel Roddy’s recipe for stracciatella | A Kitchen in Rome | Food

“Bèvete ’sto brodo, che te fà bene” – “Drink this broth, it is good for you” – is how the writer Livio Jannattoni begins the chapter about broth in his detailed and passionate book on Roman food. He goes on to quote the Roman poet Belli, whose sonnet praises both broth and boiled chicken, and the medical school of Salerno, which for decades has suggested that fresh eggs, generous amounts of wine, succulent broths and simple focaccia are best way to stay efficient and strong.

Having promised efficient and strong, the chapter goes on to describe the family of broths thickened with semolina, cheese and egg or stracciatella, so-called because of the wispy stracci that form with heat and whisking, and that then sit suspended like cumulus clouds in the broth, soothing and invigorating. I am sold on this – we need all of these things – so I head out on to the extremely bright and quiet streets of Rome, now a city suspended, to buy chicken.

While some people don’t differentiate between stock and broth (the American food writer James Beard was emphatic that they were the same thing), I do, especially when it comes to chicken and beef, and this is based entirely on unscientific habit. The difference between (my) stock and (my) broth is that the former is richer, made with roasted bones and cooked for longer, whereas broth begins with raw meat and is cooked for less time.

Stock was what I knew growing up, Mum boiling the carcass of a roast chicken along with the scrapings from the roasting tin, any bones left on our plates and vegetables. The pan would simmer on the hot plate for a couple of hours, or in the oven for more, emerging as a dark gold liquor that steamed up the windows, then congealed into a wobble as it cooled. Looking back, it wasn’t even a case of choosing between the two words: stock was stock, and the only broth we knew was Scottish and came in a tin. It was in Italy that I learned to make the broth known as brodo or brodino. I also learned about dado, a cube of broth or spoonful of granules with wondrous powers, but that is another column.

My best chicken broth comes from boiling a whole boiling fowl, or gallina, which provides several litres. Week-in-week-out, though, I use two legs and a wing, putting them in a pan along with a carrot, two sticks of celery, a fistful of parsley stalks, a bay leaf, five peppercorns, an onion cut in half and two litres of cold water, all brought to a boil, then reduced to a steady simmer, skimming the surface from time to time. After 50 minutes of simmering, you have a pale yellow, gently flavoured stock to be strained and salted. You also have a little poached meat that has given up some but not all of its flavour. Pulled from the bone, this pale poached meat is one of my favourite things to eat, trumping both roast and fried chicken, especially when pinched with flakes of salt, eaten with lemon mayonnaise and salad, or squashed between two slices of white bread.

As a child, I loathed being told to drink or eat up because it would do me good; I didn’t care if it did me any good, I cared only that it tasted good. In the case of Mum’s stock, I took it entirely for granted. Now I don’t: if you eat meat, there is no doubt that chicken broth, with or without the wisps, is the most soothing and nourishing of foods – the mother of foods, for every day.

Stacciatella alla Romana (egg drop soup)

As is always the case, there are as many versions of stracciatella as there are cooks. I follow Livio’s recipe, but substitute the nutmeg for lemon.

Prep 10 min
Cook 10 min
Serves 4

1.5 litres chicken broth or stock
3 eggs
3 tbsp semolina
3 tbsp grated parmesan
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Nutmeg or lemon zest
(you choose)

Lift out one ladleful of broth and set aside to cool. Bring the rest to a boil.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs, semolina, parmesan and the cold stock you set aside before. Add the parsley and the lemon zest or nutmeg, and whisk again.

Once the broth is boiling steadily, add the beaten egg mixture and whisk vigorously so that the egg forms into small rag-like flakes. Reduce the flame to moderate and cook, still whisking, for another two minutes, then serve immediately.

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