Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Broth of the Gods - Tortellini in Brodo
Broth of the Gods - Tortellini in Brodo

One specialty of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is Tortellini in Brodo, plump curly pillows of fresh stuffed pasta floating in a flavorful broth, served as a primi, or first course pasta dish all over the region. I tasted many versions of this ubiquitous dish during my visit there this past fall and while the tortellini came in all sorts of exciting stuffing variations, from simple blends of fresh cheeses to ambrosial meat mixtures containing pork, mortadella or prosciutto, what I remember most about them, and the common denominator of them all, was the delicious brodo, or broth.

The brodo was always clear, light and delicate yet incredibly flavorful. I wondered how such a pale clear broth could contain all those subtle yet complex flavors and imagined it must be the result of some sophisticated culinary alchemy with scores of special ingredients. During a marathon pasta-making lesson near the end of my trip, I learned how to create this magical brodo and marveled at the small number of ingredients and the simplicity of its preparation.

Bones and vegetables are standard broth fodder but two of the ingredients in this brodo recipe surprised me; I believe they may be the secrets to this wonderful elixir. One was the pair of chicken feet casually tossed into the pot, whole. At first I thought that there couldn’t be much flavor in those ugly scrawny avian appendages, and then I recalled the rich succulent braised chicken feet I had at a Chinese dim-sum meal a few years ago. One advantage to living in the boonies is that I can get chicken feet from a co-worker who raises chickens, but you can find them in most Asian markets. I suppose a few chicken wings may be used in their place.

The other unexpected ingredient was a piece of rind leftover from a chunk of Parmagiano Reggiano cheese. I’ve used these rinds myself many times in rich dishes like meat sauces, chicken cacciatore, and minestrone soup but I was surprised to see it used in a clear, delicate broth. It really adds a special subtle flavor.

The other broth ingredients were typical: beef bones, beef short ribs, and some basic fresh vegetables. But even the vegetable preparation was unusually simple. In the past when I prepared regular broth or soup, I always chopped the vegetables into small pieces so as to extract the most flavors from them. In this brodo, however, the carrot and rib of celery are dropped into the pot whole and the onion is halved. I imagine this keeps the broth clear because the vegetables don’t dissolve into the liquid while the long cooking time extracts all their flavors

I’ve made and served this brodo of the gods twice since I’ve returned from Italy, once with store-bought tortellini and once with homemade passatelli. Each time I make it I continue to be startled by how such a simple process using simple ingredients can produce a broth so subtly complex.

Try this wonderful broth, adding some fresh high-quality tortellini and simmer to create the classic regional specialty of Emilia-Romagna. Don’t forget a grating of fresh Parmigiana Reggiano cheese on top.

Brodo (Classic Italian Broth)

1 lb beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
1 lb beef bones
1 pair of chicken feet
1 whole carrot
1 rib celery
1 onion, peeled and halved
rind of parmagiano, about 1 ½ inches square
salt to taste

Fill a stock pot with cold water. Add all ingredients and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that floats to the surface. Lower heat and simmer gently for 2 - 4 hours.

Strain and season to taste with salt.

I like to make the broth the day before using and refrigerate it overnight. Not only does it taste better, but any excess fat hardens on the top surface and is easily scraped away and discarded.

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