One look at my mom’s old meat grinder and my eyes instantly well with tears. Never fail. How can that old beast resign me to a puddle of tears with a simple glance? Maybe I can blame it on the nostalgia that tends to follow me into fall. Or maybe I just had too much wine last night. Yet each and every time I pull out that meat grinder, IT happens. Honestly, it can be embarrassing if anyone else is in the house.
If that meat grinder could talk, the stories it would tell. Stories of two little kids helping their mom figure out how to attach it to the old wooden pasta board. Or of those two little kids gently carrying the passatelli noodles from the old grinder to the boiling stockpot. Or of their mom constantly yelling to only stir the pot gently so as to not break the passatelli.
Although my mother was Sicilian, she learned to cook mostly from my father’s mother – regional specialties from Le Marche, like passatelli, were the norm in our house. The big, white ‘passatelli pot’ and old meat grinder would emerge from the cabinet and we would grow excited to assume our duties in the kitchen.
I now own both that meat grinder and big, white pot. The meat grinder has numerous washers attached to the handle – an attempt by my father to repair it over its many years of use. Although the meat grinder wobbles a bit and the big white pot has a tiny leak in the bottom, I just can’t part with these icons of my childhood and still reach for them when we feel like a soul warming dish of passatelli.
My mom’s version of this recipe uses both nutmeg and lemon zest. This dish is incredibly simple to make and is at its best when good quality stock is used. Substitute a potato ricer with large holes for the meat grinder. (You know you have one in the back of that cabinet.) If you can take the time, make the stock from scratch and if in a pinch, use the best quality boxed stock you can find. The passatelli take only minutes to make once the broth is made so do not wait until a holiday to make these – this is a wonderfully delicious soup for a chilly fall eve. Buon appetito!
A regional Italian speciality for chilly fall evenings.
- 1 ½ cups plain bread crumbs
- 1 ½ cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Large pinch nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
- 5 large eggs (may need additional depending on their size)
- 2 quarts good quality chicken broth, preferably homemade (recipe below)
- In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs and cheese. Add in the nutmeg and about ½ teaspoon lemon zest (or to taste). In a separate bowl, gently whisk the eggs. Add them to the breadcrumb mixture and using your hands, mix together until they come together and form a soft dough-like consistency. If the dough is too soft, add a bit more breadcrumbs or cheese. If too dry, add in another egg. Cover in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes or so.
- In a large soup pot, bring the broth just to a boil. Season with salt and pepper if needed. Working over the pot, pass the dough through a potato ricer or passatelli maker directly into the broth. Continue until all the dough is finished. The passatelli are cooked once they float to the surface, about 2-3 minutes.
- Gently ladle into bowls and serve with plenty of extra grated Parmesan cheese.
Potato ricer with large holes or passatelli maker
- 4–5 pound chicken or chicken parts such as backs, wings, necks
- 2 medium onions, washed and quartered (no need to peel if organic)
- 2 or 3 large carrots, washed and trimmed, cut into 2 or 3 large pieces
- 2 or 3 ribs celery including the leafy bits, washed, cut into 2 or 3 large pieces
- 1 clove garlic, peeled, slightly smashed
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- Handful good-sized parsley sprigs, about 6-8
- About 15 or so black peppercorns
- Wash the chicken. Remove the giblets if still intact. Put all of the ingredients, except the salt, in a large stockpot. Add in enough cold water to cover the ingredients by a few inches. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer gently, partially covered, for 2 or 3 hours. Skim off any foam that forms at the top as it surfaces. Cook until the broth has developed a deep yellow color.
- Strain the broth through a colander or cheesecloth. Allow the broth to cool to room temperature and cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. The fat will rise to the top and harden overnight. Simply spoon off the next morning and discard.
- (Cook’s Note: I suggest waiting to salt your broth until you actually use it for a recipe. If you salt in advance, you may need to reduce it or add it to saltier ingredients and potentially the dish will become too salty. You can salt to taste as needed whenever you use it. )