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Putting on the Pot – Pasta in Brodo

Putting on the Pot – Pasta in Brodo

Where I grew up in Italy broth was (and still is) such a tradition that at least one meal a week was built around a stock pot of broth. So this week’s recipe is more of a cultural memoir than a complex recipe.

The tradition of ‘metter su la pentola,’ literally “putting on the pot,” to make a pot full of broth goes back centuries in many parts of the world. In my region, during the period of my childhood and adolescence, my mother and most people I knew, who had their roots in farming, followed the custom of having one day a week when they would ‘make broth.’ Usually my mother would fill ¾ of big pot with water, peel a carrot and half an onion, clean a stalk of celery, put abundant salt and start cooking. The timing of the addition of the meats depended on the main use of the food you were cooking. On one hand, the rule was that if you were going to use the broth primarily, you would put the chicken parts and the other meats when the water was still cold. If, on the other hand, you wanted to enjoy primarily the meats in the pot, you put them when the water was boiling, since the meats retained their flavor better. The making of the broth would take 2-4 hours, depending on the toughness of the meats involved. Besides bony parts of a chicken, my mother would put some beef, at times even some fatty parts of beef, or a beef tongue (not often) or pig’s feet (not often!). The broth was then cooled and de-greased and used as base for many kinds of “pasta in brodo,” much of it handmade. As Rick mentions in his postscript to the book review a big favorite was angel hair pasta (tagliolini), for which there was an unspoken competition among the female members of my family – namely my mother and her three two sisters – for who cut the thinnest strands of pasta. My aunt Linda was always the recognized winner, and everybody always compared their own tagliolini unfavorably to hers.

Another kind of pasta in brodo that I enjoyed as a child were ‘quadretti,’ tiny, tiny squares of pasta, that my mom handmade and prepared with left-over pasta, often when I was sick.. Yet another pasta that was prepared for festive occasions were “passatelli,” made with parmesan cheese, tiny bread crumbs, nutmeg, salt, pepper and eggs. A special sieve reduced the dough made with these ingredients into delicious sticky strands that were cooked for a few minutes in the boiling broth!

Of course, the queen pasta in brodo for our region are “cappelletti,” little pieces of thin pasta filled with ricotta, pork , parmesan cheese, nutmeg, egg(s), salt and pepper. My 94-year old aunt Linda still makes “cappelletti in brodo” for me every time I go back to visit her, as she knows how much I like them!

As for the meats cooked in the broth, called familiarly “il bollito” or “the boiled (meats)” they were mostly served hot, especially if there were some fatty parts (which my mother loved!), with just a bit of salt and may be a sprinkle of olive oil. With a salad or cooked vegetables, they were and are considered a delightful meal!

In order to emphasize the quality of soul-food given to “pasta in brodo,” I will mention another family tradition. Whenever I would return to Italy from the US (or elsewhere in Europe where we might have been traveling), my mother would welcome me with a first dinner of “tagliolini in brodo.” After that dinner, I knew that I had, once again, come back “home.”

Postscript: If you are up to “putting on the pot” you can easily substitute angel hair pasta for any of the above homemade pasta dishes. And if you don’t have the time or energy to make your own broth, use your favorite canned chicken or vegetable broth. If you can find fresh egg angel hair pasta, all the better. Be sure to season your pasta in brodo with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese! Buon appetito!