Hot Soup for Cold Days

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The other day I went to toss a package of rolls into the freezer, and, lo and behold, when I opened the freezer door I found a gift. The best kind of gift. A container of homemade broth.

With the holiday craze and a looming book deadline for which I’ve been testing recipes fast and furiously, I had forgotten all about it. This somehow made it an even better gift. And when, right around the time I made my discovery, snow flurries started to fill the air, well then, there was only one thing to do.

Stop testing (if only for a moment, dear publisher) and start making soup.

When you have homemade broth, you don’t want to make just any old soup. You want to make a soup that will shine a light on that broth. After all, you took the time to make it from scratch. The broth I had made was a classic Italian meat broth, brodo di carne, as it is known. It is, in essence, chicken broth enriched by the addition of beef marrow bones. It is a shade lighter in flavor than beef broth, but a little more robust than plain chicken broth. Italians use brodo di carne in all sorts of ways beyond soup—for simmering stews and moistening roasts, for cooking risotto, and for adding depth to pasta sauces and to sautéed vegetables.

All good uses, but like I said, if you took the time to make broth from scratch (which, apparently, I had), then why not let that broth be the star?

Love the mutton chops!

So I made Gnocchi di Semolina in Brodo di Carne (semolina gnocchi in homemade meat broth). It is an appealing, old-fashioned soup, best eaten hot on a cold day. My recipe, from my first book, is based on one by Pellegrino Artusi, one of Italy’s most revered cookbook authors. His famous collection of recipes, La sienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (Science In the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well), first published in 1891, is still considered a culinary bible by millions of Italian home cooks, including my mom. A fine English translation by Kyle M. Phillips III, was published by Random House in 1996.

Incidentally, I love Artusi’s book not only for the recipes, so many of which endure to this day, but also for the window it provides into life in Italy in the first decades after unification, and for Artusi’s often barbed (but funny) commentary, especially on cultures beyond his native Emilia Romagna and sometimes on humanity in general. Here are a couple of examples as translated by Phillips:

From a headnote accompanying a recipe for peas with prosciutto: “Let’s leave the pleasure of eating boiled greens either unseasoned or at the most dotted with a little butter to the English; we Mediterranean peoples require that the flavor of our foods be quite stimulating.”

From a headnote accompanying a recipe for meatballs: “This is a dish that everybody knows how to make, including absolute donkeys. Indeed, it was probably the donkey who first suggested the basic shape of the meatball to humans.”

Zing!

But back to the soup which, unlike Artusi’s observations, is gentle in nature. The ‘gnocchi’ in this soup are not the little doughy potato nuggets that most of us think of when we see that word. These are entirely different, made from a batter of semolina flour and eggs that is baked into a thin ‘cake’ of sorts and then cut into small dice. The cubes of semolina, delicately flavored with nutmeg and Parmigiano cheese, are then simmered in the broth, which they soak up like like tiny sponges.

This soup holds all of those magical qualities that any good soup holds. It is simple, nourishing, and uplifting, and it will bolster you against winter’s worst, from the driving snow to wind-whipped rain, and maybe even against verbal assaults, in the unlikely event that any are slung in your direction.

Makes 6 first-course servings or 3 to 4 main-course servings

Gnocchi di Semolina in Brodo di Carne

From The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy, Chronicle Books, 2006

Ingredients

  • For the homemade meat broth:
  • 1 chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds
  • 4 beef marrow bones, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds total weight
  • 3 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 ribs celery, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 yellow onions, quartered, each quarter stuck with 1 whole clove
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 6 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, including stems, coarsely chopped (1 cup lightly packed)
  • 5 quarts water
  • Kosher or sea salt

  • For the soup:
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the baking dish
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 2/3 cup semolina flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 cups homemade meat broth

Instructions

For the homemade meat broth:

Put all of the ingredients except the salt in a large stockpot. Bring the broth to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming away any foam that forms on the surface with a skimmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, uncovered, skimming any foam that forms on the surface during the first hour or so of cooking. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours, adding salt to taste during the last hour of cooking. The broth is done when it is reduced by about one-half and has developed a rich, meaty flavor.

Strain the broth through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth into a clean container. Discard the bones and reserve the meat and some of the carrots and celery. (You can serve these as a light second course, dressed simply with olive oil.) Let the broth cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Skim off and discard the congealed layer of fat on the surface before reheating. You will end up with about 10 cups of broth. Reserve 6 cups for the soup. Refrigerate the rest and use within 3 days or freeze.

For the soup:

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously butter an 8- or 9-inch square metal cake pan.

In a small saucepan, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the butter has melted.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1 cup cheese. Gradually whisk in the semolina, taking care to avoid lumps, and then the melted butter. Season with the salt and nutmeg.

Pour the semolina mixture into the prepared pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the semolina is set but not browned. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the cake from the pan and let it rest until cool enough to handle.

Cut the semolina cake into 1/4-inch-thick slices, and cut the slices into 1/4-inch cubes. You should have about 3 cups.

In a pot large enough to accommodate the gnocchi, bring the broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Carefully pour the semolina cubes into the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the gnocchi are heated through and slightly puffed up. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and sprinkle each serving with a little cheese.

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21 Responses to Hot Soup for Cold Days

  1. Helen January 18, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Comforted and entertained by this post.

    • Domenica January 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

      Thank you, Helen. Glad you stopped by!

  2. susan from food blogga January 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    You have just made my Italian heart sing, Domenica. Know what’s for dinner tonight? Polenta with hot Italian sausage and broccoli rabe.

    • Domenica January 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Thank you, Susan. Talk about comfort food. Polenta + sausages + rapini = the Italian trifecta. Buon appetito!

  3. LiztheChef January 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    Please, a soup cookbook?

  4. Judy@Savoring Today January 19, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    I am with you about the homemade broth, it deserves that we break from the fuss around us and indulge in a little soup making. I haven’t decided which is most comforting, the making or the eating.

    • Domenica January 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

      Good question, Judy. I give the edge to eating.

  5. Elisa January 19, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    I always check my emails before I leave for the office and this morning I saw your wonderful recipe of gnocchi di semolina. Just looking at them I like to dive into the photo! I will make them tonight, but I will season them with an artichoke bruschetta condiment and lots of Reggiano. This Sunday I will have time for the broth. Grazie come sempre delle buonissime ricette!

    • Domenica January 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      Elisa, I love the way you take a recipe or an idea and re-interpret it. This is the sign of “una vera cuoca.” I hadn’t thought of dressing the gnocchi in this way. I would cut them a little larger for what you are suggesting. I will have to try it myself! Thanks for passing along a great idea.

      • Elisa January 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

        Grazie for the suggestion, I will cut the gnocchi a little larger. Can’t wait to eat them!

  6. Lora @cakeduchess January 19, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Love this post and love this soup. It is nice to find broth in the freezer. Your semolina gnocchi look wonderful. xx

    • Domenica January 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      Grazie, bella Lora.

  7. Elizabeth @Mango_Queen January 19, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    I love how this soup sounds so heartwarming. The broth contents are amazing. I love soup any day! Bookmarked this recipe & will try it soon. Thanks for sharing this recipe, Domenica!

    • Domenica January 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

      Try it, Betty Ann. You’ll enjoy it. Cheers

  8. AdriBarr January 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Ciao Domenica,

    Well, m’dear you have done it again. What a very lovely and quick soup. I always keep stock in my freezer, so this one was easy for yesterday’s lunch. Bart loved it, and he said to be sure to say “Thanks, Domenica!”

    • Domenica January 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

      Wow, that was fast, Adri! So glad the recipe was a hit.

  9. michelle January 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    would like to receive posts via email

  10. Jamie January 22, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    Oh, I have to find this cookbook! Living in France, I tend to look for old (or reprints) French cookbooks but not Italian ones. Wonderful! I’ll bet it is fascinating. And brodo – when we lived in Italy, my sons’ favorite dish was ravioli in brodo and it was a regular on our kitchen table. Funny how just moving to another country and our eating habits change – I haven’t made ravioli in brodo for years! Your gnocchi in brodo is inspiring!

  11. elisa January 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    I love this soup and I’ll make it again tomorrow. Your books are so rewarding to the palate and the senses! I have all 4 of your books and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your recipes. When is your next one?

    • Domenica January 30, 2012 at 9:06 am #

      Grazie di cuore, Elisa. I am working on The Glorious Vegetables, which is scheduled to be published in 2013. Stay tuned!

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