There are some dishes that appear in only slightly disguised form on tables across the world. When I first tried this next homey Italian dish that I heard about on a podcast, I thought something similar to Midge Maisel when she declared, hearing the oven ding at her husband’s and new shiksa girlfriend’s apartment, that pot roast was nothing more than “Methodist brisket.” Well for me, this is really nothing more than matzo ball soup with Italian clothes.
As I thought about it, there are a number of recipes that follow this general idea of some kind of flour, egg, and some form of fat, mixed together and then dropped into simmering broth. Chicken and dumplings, matzo ball soup, passatelli, and another Greek/Mediterranean dish called trachana, which uses wheat and fermented dairy. The results are never beautiful to look at, but they are warming, comforting, and delicious.
In the authentic version, you essentially make a homemade pasta dough from breadcrumbs, eggs, Parmesan cheese, and a bit of nutmeg, and then extrude it through a potato ricer. For me personally, using parmesan cheese in the dough gave it a strong cheese flavor that I didn’t really like (although it may have been that I was using a lower-quality grated parmesan cheese), and so I experimented with using Mexican crumbling cheese, and my family loved it. This gave the final product a milder flavor. Sprinkling fresh parmesan over the top at the end gave it just the right amount of parmesan flavor for my taste. I also love the touch of lemon, but this is optional.
Depending on the type breadcrumbs and the cheese, you will need to adapt the amounts slightly. You want a fairly stiff dough, or else it will not go through the extruder. I actually dusted with some flour at the end since my dough was still a little bit sticky. The dish also depends on good chicken broth. If you don’t have homemade, use the best one you can find.
Note: If you don’t have a potato ricer (I don’t) get creative with other things you can push the dough through. I used a garlic press, which worked well if you put aside the fact that I had to press it a gajillion times to get through all the dough. Or you could just go matzo ball soup style, and make it into little balls, but that would not be passatelli!
- 1 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- 1 cup grated dry cheese such as parmesan, or any of several Mexican dry cheeses such as cotija, añejo, and queso fresco, (I liked using queso fresco, but it’s a bit wetter so might require more breadcrumbs)
- 3 eggs
- zest of one lemon
- Flour for dusting
- pinch black pepper
- 2 quarts (or more) of chicken broth
- parmesan cheese for sprinkling
Add the breadcrumbs, butter, eggs, cheese, and lemon zest in a bowl and mix to combine. Continue adding breadcrumbs if necessary until you get a stiff dough. Dust with flour and knead briefly in the bowl. Chill for 15 minutes if you have time.
Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts of chicken stock to a boil over medium heat.
Place the dough, a chunk at a time, into the potato ricer (here you can see my using my tiny garlic press…) and squeeze the noodles out into the stock. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes after finished making the noodles. Serve immediately with extra grated parmesan cheese. If you wait longer, the soup will simply thicken, but it’s still delicious!