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?
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.”
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
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
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:
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
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.