Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs

February 9, 2018

These meatballs are really mystical if you consider the sway they hold on my husband, his brother, and his father.  They go wild for these meatballs.

Well, wild in that very restrained Northern Italian way.

If they were Southern Italian, where a dinner conversation can seem like a minor riot, their meatball response would barely register on the scale.  It would signal almost utter disregard for the meatballs.

But that, in fact, is not the case.  The meatballs hold some sort of magical, mystical charm.

Marisa, of course, is my mother-in-law and these are her meatballs.  She considers them quite unusual, having learned to make them from her mother and basically not remembering any other relatives or friends making something similar.

And, as meatballs, they ARE unusual!

An old-fashioned ricer is still an indispensable piece of kitchen equipment. Make sure yours is very sturdy. Many new ones are not.

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But here’s a secret that I haven’t told anyone yet.  They really AREN’T meatballs.  They’re croquettes!  Crocchette in Italian.

There, I said it.  Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs aren’t really meatballs.  But everybody in the family calls them “Ma’s Meatballs.”  “Ma’s Croquettes” doesn’t have the same alliterative allure, even if it’s more accurate.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law celebrating his birthday.

When I did a Google search for crocchette, Google turned up about 1,730,000 results in 0.51 seconds.  When I searched for crocchette patate e carne (potato and meat croquettes), Google returned 1,500,000 results in 0.72 seconds.

And that was doing searches in Italian!

I found a Japanese woman who seems to have the same relationship to her mother’s meat and potato croquettes (korokke) as my husband and his family have to his mother’s.


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The meat for these “meatballs” (a word I’ll use in deference to my husband and his family of origin) is boiled before being finely chopped.  This presents a perfect opportunity to make a really nice beef broth.  You don’t have to do that, of course, but since you’re going to be boiling the meat anyhow, and since it only takes a few extra minutes to throw some aromatics into the pot, why not!

The broth from the meat for the specific batch of meatballs shown in this blog is sitting in the freezer ready to be turned into Auntie Helen’s Stracciatella, which will be coming up on the blog next month.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Marisa's Mystical Meatballs
Marisa says she usually uses cross-cut beef shank for the meatballs. When we made them, she also a piece of beef she bought for soup so we used both. In the end, we got ½ pound of cooked beef, with fat and gristle removed. Adjust the proportion of the other ingredients if you get substantially more or less cooked beef. If you want to use just cross-cut beef shank, I would try about 2 ½-3 lbs. The beef is boiled and then finely chopped to make the meatballs, giving you the opportunity to make a really nice beef broth with just a few minutes more work.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
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Instructions
Beef and Broth
  1. Cross-cut beef shank.
  2. Put the meat and all other broth ingredients in a large stock pot.
  3. Cover with abundant cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 4-6 hours, until the meat is very tender.
  5. Remove and cool the beef.
  6. Strain the broth and reserve for another use.
Meatballs
  1. Remove fat, gristle and bone from beef. You should have approximately ½ pound of cooked beef.
  2. Cook the unpeeled potatoes in boiling water until you can easily pierce them with the tines of a long fork or paring knife, 20-25 minutes.
  3. Remove the potatoes from the water and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mince the garlic or grate it on a microplane grater.
  5. Combine beef, parsley and garlic in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
  6. Peel the slightly cooled potatoes. If they are too cool it will be difficult to rice them.
  7. Pass the potatoes through a ricer.
  8. Combine the beef mixture with the potatoes, nutmeg, allspice, salt and black pepper.
  9. Mix well with a large spoon or your hands.
  10. Add the lightly beaten eggs.
  11. Mix well using your hands.
  12. Form the mixture into 16 balls and then flatten them slightly.
  13. Lightly roll the meatballs in fine dry breadcrumbs.
  14. Pour ⅛ inch of oil into a large sauté pan.
  15. Heat the oil on medium-high heat.
  16. Fry the meatballs in two batches, on medium-high, flipping once, until brown.
  17. Drain on paper towels.
  18. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Italian Wedding Soup

February 5, 2018

Growing up I never really understood why this was called Wedding Soup.  It was NEVER served at weddings.

It was mostly served at home, unceremoniously.

The fact that it was unceremonious is a shame.  It is a wonderful soup and, being honest, takes a bit of work to pull together.  Both the soup, and the soup-maker, in my estimation, deserve a bit of attention.

Although it takes some work, it doesn’t require much in the way of heard-earned skills like frosting a cake or making pie crust.  It’s just a bit of slogging through a series of steps.

This is a beloved soup among Americans of Italian descent.  Interestingly, my in-laws who are actually from Italy had never heard of it until I made it for this blog!


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But back to the “wedding” part.  I did a bit of internet research (thanks Google!).  Actually, I hesitate to call it “research.”  I’m old school.  I remember when doing research meant hours upon hours spent in libraries looking at actual hardcopy materials.  It almost doesn’t seem fair to sit on my sofa with my laptop and read materials served up by Google based on natural language questions and call it research.

The “natural language” part is interesting too.  In the “old” days, if you found an article that was relevant to the research topic, you would look at the articles referenced by the author and find, potentially, other relevant articles.  But they would all be older than the first article.  This is where the “Science Citation Index” came into play.

The Index was a series of periodically published volumes that listed all the articles that cited a particular article in their bibliography.  With the Science Citation Index, you could start with a relevant article and then work forwards finding all the newer articles that had cited that article.

Now I just tell Google what I’m interested in and I get a bunch of (almost always) relevant “hits!”  Google is even nice enough to tell me how many hits there are and what fraction of a second it took Google to identify them.

Even when I’m researching a biomedical topic I sit on my sofa with my laptop and search the National Library of Medicine.  The search language is a bit more arcane than the natural language used by Google but it still feels like cheating compared to slogging around a library.  I can even have the full article delivered to my laptop so I don’t have to figure out what library has the publication I need.


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So, what did I learn from my Google search?

It appears (at least it’s a plausible theory) that Wedding Soup is an inaccurate translation of Minestra Maritata or Married Soup; apparently so-named because of the way the different ingredients marry together so well.

I’m guessing that many Americans with no affiliation to Italy have never had escarole.

Interestingly, my husband’s Tuscan grandmother would use up small amounts of different types of dried pasta, perhaps putting them into a soup or serving them with a simple sauce.  She referred to this as Pasta Maritata because she was marrying the different types of pasta to create a dish.

If this theory is correct, I am perplexed by the inaccurate translation but, be that as it may, the soup is wonderful.  I urge you to give it a try.

I like breaking up the work over two days, especially since I like to make a long-simmered broth as the base of the soup.  My mother didn’t do this.  Once the chicken was cooked, it was removed and shredded and the broth was used without additional simmering to make the soup.  It shaves about 3 hours off of the prep time.  But, since making broth is mostly hands off, and the improvement in flavor is dramatic, I simmer everything a bit longer before straining and discarding the solids.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


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Italian Wedding Soup
If you don’t want to use the white center of the escarole, start with two heads and just use the dark green parts. The pale inner portion can be served in a salad or cooked in a number of ways. I like to divide up the work over two days, making the broth on the first day and the remainder on the second day. It’s perfectly feasible to do it all on the same day, however. I always keep a stash of rinds from Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheeses in the freezer. They add great flavor to broths, beans, and an array of other dishes.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Broth and Chicken
Meatballs
Final assembly
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Broth and Chicken
Meatballs
Final assembly
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Instructions
Broth and Chicken
  1. Cut the chicken into breast halves, legs, thighs, and wings. Cut the back into 2 or three pieces. Reserve the liver for another use but chop the remaining giblets.
  2. Slice the onions. There's really no need to peel them first.
  3. Same with the garlic, no need to peel. It all gets strained out in the end.
  4. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered for two hours.
  5. After two hours, remove the breasts, legs, and thighs. Continue to simmer the broth.
  6. Remove the meat from the bones. Return the chicken bones and skin to the broth.
  7. Continue to simmer the broth for another two hours, adjusting seasoning as needed.
  8. Meanwhile, shred the breast meat and refrigerate.
  9. Reserve the leg and thigh meat for another use.
  10. After the broth has finished cooking, cool it for several hours. Strain and discard the solids. Allow the broth to come to room temperature and refrigerate.
  11. Alternatively, immediately strain and discard the solids and proceed as below.
Meatballs
  1. Put all the ingredients except the bread into a mixing bowl.
  2. Cut the crusts from the bread.
  3. Cover the bread with warm water for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Squeeze some of the water from the bread.
  5. Add the bread to the mixing bowl.
  6. Mix with your hands, until thoroughly combined and no streaks of white from the bread remain visible.
  7. As you are mixing add a bit of the bread soaking water from time to time (about a quarter cup or so total) to keep the mixture moist but not wet.
  8. The mixture should become tacky from the effects of the water and the mixing on the proteins in the meat. The tackiness will help the meatballs hold together for the same reason that sausage doesn’t fall apart when the casing is removed.
  9. With damp hands, roll the mixture into approximately 50 meatballs. Keeping your hands moist will enable you to create a smooth surface on the meatballs. If there are visible cracks, the meatballs will split when cooking.
Final assembly
  1. Skim the fat from the broth. Add water to make 6 quarts of broth. Bring the broth to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the escarole.
  3. As the broth comes to a boil, adjust the salt and pepper.
  4. Add the chopped escarole. Return to a boil and cook at a moderate boil for approximately 5 minutes.
  5. Add the meatballs. Return to a boil and boil gently, so the meatballs don’t break, for 10-12 minutes.
  6. Add the shredded white meat chicken and return to a gentle boil.
  7. Adjust salt and pepper. At this point, slightly over-salt the soup as the dry pasta will reduce the saltiness of the soup. The soup can be made ahead to this point. Return to a boil and add the pasta just before serving.
  8. Add the pasta and boil gently until pasta is cooked, approximately 10 minutes.
  9. Adjust salt and pepper.
  10. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Turkey Noodle Soup

May 24, 2017

Soup!

If my mother said she was making “soup” without any qualifiers, it meant her beef noodle soup.

She would cook a good-sized piece of beef in her soup pot along with large pieces of carrot, celery and potato till the meat was falling apart.

She would cook thin egg noodles separately.

To serve the soup, everyone would get a bowl of broth with pieces of carrot, celery and potato.  The large piece of beef would be in its own serving bowl and the noodles in another.

At the table, everyone added beef (shredding it with a serving fork) and noodles to their bowl of broth for the ultimate customization.

I haven’t had soup this way since my mother died.  I actually don’t ever remember being served soup in the same manner by anyone else, anywhere, ever.  If you’ve ever heard of, or had, soup being served this way, I’d really like to hear about it.

The other soup my mother made frequently was what is sometimes called “Italian Wedding Soup.”  It is a rich chicken broth with pieces of chicken, small meatballs, carrots, celery, pasta (typically, acini de pepe), and escarole.

Occasionally my mother would make Slovak Mushroom Soup, with dried mushrooms and potatoes, or Potato Soup with potatoes, milk and onions.  More often, however, we’d get these when visiting my grandparents.  Early on, my grandmother would make soup, but when she got older, Aunt Ann or Aunt Mary would make it and bring it to my grandparents’ house.

On a Sunday, when my father, his six brothers, and all of their spouses and children would visit my grandparents, a lot of soup could be consumed.  Mind you, there was no guarantee that there would be soup, but if there was, it needed to be an industrial quantity.

In the winter, my grandmother would keep the soup in a big pot in the root cellar in the basement.  It was the same root cellar where she would make sour cabbage but that was before I was born.  I know because my father and all of my uncles never tired of talking about my grandmother’s sour cabbage soup, or kissel.  They bemoaned the fact that nobody made it any longer.  I don’t have her recipe and while I can find recipes for soups that sound similar, none of them sounds exactly like the soup my father described.

Today’s soup, however, is not one that I grew up eating.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, my mother thought the carcass of a roasted turkey wasn’t intended to be reused.  I first had turkey noodle soup, made with roasted turkey leftovers, when I was in college.  The soup was made by Mary Lou d’Aquili, the wife of my college advisor and, many years later, the person with whom I went into psychiatric practice, Eugene d’Aquili.

Ever since then, I’ve turned the bones of most roasts into broth.

We have an array of fresh herbs year round thanks to the greenhouse.  I have totally given up dried bay leaves in favor of fresh ones.  They’re really easy to grow and the taste is incredible.  California bay leaves are stronger than Mediterranean bay leaves so if the balance of flavors in a dish is critical, and you’re using the former, opt for about half the amount called for in the recipe.  For most dishes, it’s not a critical distinction, however, and you can just substitute California for Mediterranean bay leaves.

Here’s a picture of our Bay Laurel plant, pruned down and ready to start its seasonal growth spurt.  In the fall I’ll harvest the leaves to make an Italian Bay Laurel Liqueur, Liquore al Lauro or Liquore Alloro.

The following recipe for Turkey Noodle Soup starts with the Roasted Turkey Broth I posted a few weeks ago.

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Turkey Noodle Soup
Save the bones, skin and shreds of meat from a roast turkey to make broth for soup. You can freeze the bones and make the broth later. You can also make the broth and freeze for future use. What you don’t want to do is to freeze the turkey noodle soup. I prefer not to freeze the soup, as the vegetables become too soft. If you must, however, freeze it before adding the noodles and peas. I keep a container of Parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer so that I always have them available to add to soup or other dishes to amplify the savoriness.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Bring the broth to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the carrots.
  3. Slice the celery.
  4. Dice the onions.
  5. Mince the garlic.
  6. Dig a Parmesan cheese rind out of your freezer.
  7. To the broth, add sliced celery, carrots, onions, minced garlic, bay leaf, marjoram, cheese rind, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Return to a low boil and cook, partially covered for 30 minutes.
  9. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  10. Add cooked turkey and tomato paste. Cook at a low boil for another 15 minutes.
  11. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference then add an additional ½ teaspoon of salt. (Remember, you’re about to add unseasoned peas and noodles.)
  12. Add the noodles. Bring to a boil.
  13. Add the peas. Boil gently till noodles are done.
  14. When noodles are cooked, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in chopped parsley.
  15. Serve immediately.
  16. Pass grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese at the table.
Recipe Notes

Here is the recipe for Roasted Turkey Broth.  You should have 3 quarts of broth.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Roasted Turkey Broth

May 5, 2017

I grew up in a house where there was absolutely no use for the carcass from a roasted turkey.  Other than my sister and I fighting over who got the crispy skin from the turkey breast, the skin went into the trash heap too.

You might imagine my surprise when, in college, I discovered that people actually did things with carcasses from roast turkey, like make broth to be used for turkey noodle soup.

To be sure, my recipe for turkey noodle soup will be posted later this month but in the meantime I would encourage you to make broth from the bones of most any roast, be it turkey, chicken, duck, pork, or beef.  Then, be creative with how to use it.

Broths made from roasted meat bones and bits of meat have a really savory quality that you won’t get from a broth made with uncooked meat.  You can’t always use them interchangeably so think about how the roasted-meat savoriness will play off the other flavors in the dish.

Roasted meat broths usually work well in hearty soups, for example, or as the liquid in a pot of Southwestern style cooked beans.  Frozen in small containers or ice cube trays, you can use the broth as the liquid for a quick pan sauce or to enrich gravy.

In fact, when I make gravy for Thanksgiving, I start by roasting a couple of Cornish game hens or a few pounds of chicken or turkey wings until they are very, very brown.  I use the roasted meat and some vegetables to make a rich, dark brown broth.  I concentrate the broth even more by boiling it down to about 3-4 cups.  While the turkey is roasting, I use the broth to make gravy, which I simmer for a couple of hours until it’s silky.  When the turkey is cooked, I deglaze the pan, skim the fat off, strain out the solids, and add the liquid to the gravy that has been bubbling away for a couple of hours.  By the time the turkey has rested and been carved, the gravy has reduced, again, to the right consistency.  The gravy is rich and savory and, more importantly, there’s enough to smother everyone’s mashed potatoes and turkey.  Doing it this way also removes the last-minute rush of actually making gravy on-the-spot from the pan drippings while you’re trying to get the meal on the table.

You might ask why I am dealing with a roasted turkey in spring rather than November.  Easter Dinner!  In addition to ham, I always make turkey since some of our friends don’t eat critters with more than two legs.  So, just for fun, here are a few pictures from Easter, complete with the bleeding lamb cake we always have for dessert.

I have a couple of different types of fat separators.  One is the more common style that resembles a small watering can with a spout that draws from the bottom of the liquid.  My preferred one, however, has an opening on the very bottom.  You just pour in the liquid, allow the fat to rise to the top, and squeeze the handle.  The opening opens and out pours the fat-free liquid from the bottom.  You can find a picture of it on my equipment page.

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Roasted Turkey Broth
Unless I need an absolutely clear broth, I prefer to use the pressure cooker. It gets the job done in an hour of cooking and makes a more flavorful broth than simmering it on the stove. However, the broth is somewhat cloudy. If you don’t want to use a pressure cooker and you don’t want to have to think about a pot on the stove, make the broth in a slow-cooker for 6-8 hours. If your pressure cooker or slow-cooker won’t accommodate 3½ quarts of water, use as much as you can and then dilute the final product to 3 quarts.
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Course Miscellaneous
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 4 3/4 hours
Servings
quarts
Ingredients
Course Miscellaneous
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 4 3/4 hours
Servings
quarts
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Thinly slice the carrots, celery and onion.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a stockpot.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Alternatively, cook at 10 pounds pressure for one hour or in a slow-cooker on low for 6-8 hours.
  4. Strain the broth.
  5. Because the broth will likely develop a gelatin-like quality on cooling, I suggest removing the fat using a fat separator while the broth is still warm.
  6. Add water to make three quarts.
Recipe Notes

I never add salt to any broth that I make unless I am making it for a specific purpose and I can plan for the final product. Broth with salt can make a dish too salty if the liquid needs to be reduced. The salt in a broth can also slow down the tenderization of dried beans. This might not be much of an issue at lower elevations but at 8000 feet getting dried beans to soften can be a challenge and anything that hinders the process is to be avoided.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Slovak Caraway Soup

April 26, 2017

Growing up with an ethnically Italian mother and an ethnically Slovak father, we mostly ate Italian food with Slovak food appearing on the table every week or two.  On Sundays we usually went to visit my father’s parents and got a bit more Slovak food.

There were some classic American dishes that appeared on our table, too.  But, honestly, not that often.  The only thing my mother made that I didn’t like was hamburgers.  Well, that and liver.

But even my mother didn’t like liver.  She made it because my father liked it.  There was never the expectation that anyone else would eat it.

When she made liver…and that process involved running from the living room, through the dining room, to the kitchen to turn the liver as it sautéed and then running back to the living room to avoid the smell…she always made something else for the rest of us.  Well, that wasn’t so unusual either.  Remember…Southern Italian mother…food is important…everyone needs to eat.  There were nights when she would make one meal for my father, one for my sister, and one for me.  She would eat one of the three.

We always ate dinner together as a family and, despite the comment above, we usually at the same meal.  Sometimes, though, we each got individually catered food.

But back to hamburgers for a moment.  My mother was a great cook.  I know she used really good beef for her hamburgers.  She usually picked out a whole cut and had the butcher grind it.  She never bought ground beef that I recall.  I still follow the basic blueprint of her hamburger recipe today and enjoy it.  So, I can’t really tell you why I thought her hamburgers were awful.  But I did.

Soup was a big deal in our house.  My father really liked soup.  Interestingly, I don’t remember having Caraway Soup more than a few times while growing up.  I do know, however, that while I was in college I got the recipe from my mother after it appeared on our table one day.  It seemed like a revelation.

It has been a regular on my table ever since.

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Slovak Caraway Soup
This is a light, refreshing soup based on a vegetable broth for which the ingredients are almost always on hand. I like serving it as a first course though it works equally well for lunch or as a light supper. Grating the vegetables on the large holes of a box grater was one of my mother’s tricks. It makes fast work of prep and the small pieces quickly flavor the broth.
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Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Shred the carrots on the teardrop holes of a box grater.
  2. Shred the celery on the teardrop holes of a box grater.
  3. Thinly slice half an onion.
  4. Combine carrots, celery, sliced onion, 2 teaspoons of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper and 2 quarts of water in a stock pot. Cover. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Add the caraway seeds. Cover and simmer another 25 minutes.
  6. Strain the broth. Discard the solids.
  7. Return the broth to the stock pot. The soup can be made several hours ahead to this point.
  8. When your ready to finish the soup, return the broth to a bare simmer.
  9. In a heavy-bottomed stock pot large enough to hold the soup, sauté the minced onion in butter until soft but not brown, about 3-4 minutes.
  10. Add the flour to the sautéed onions and cook until lightly colored, about 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly.
  11. Stir the hot broth into the onion-flour mixture a ladleful at a time, stirring well while adding the broth to avoid lumps.
  12. After about one-third of the broth has been added, the remainder can be added all at once.
  13. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 1-2 minutes to thicken. Adjust salt and pepper.
  14. While the soup is boiling, beat the eggs with 1/3 cup of water. Season the eggs with salt.
  15. While constantly whisking the stock, drizzle in the eggs to create shreds of egg.
  16. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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