A humble soup in the cucina povera tradition, zuppa pavese from the Lombardy city of Pavia has a regal history behind it. Legend has it that French king Francis I, fleeing from defeat in a nearby battle, found himself in a peasant farmhouse where the lady of the house improvised a meal for her royal guest from what she had on hand: bread fried in butter, topped with an egg and some grated cheese, over which she poured boiling broth.
A supremely simple dish, when it’s when made with best quality ingredients—a rich homemade broth, crusty homemade bread, fresh eggs and real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese—zuppa pavese is truly fit for a king. For those of us figuring out what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers, leftover turkey carcass produces a wonderful broth.
For each serving:
- 1-2 slices of best quality bread (see Notes)
- 1-2 eggs
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, q.b.
- Homemade meat broth, q.b.
At least 15 minutes before you want to serve your soup, warm a soup plate in the oven (at about 1ooC/200F) and put the broth on the simmer.
In a skillet large enough to hold your slices in one layer, melt a good nob of butter and fry the bread slices in the butter until golden brown on each side.
Remove the hot dishes from the oven and place the bread slices flat on the bottom of each plate. Crack an egg over each slice. Top with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Raise the heat and bring the broth just to the boil, then pour the hot broth into the soup plate, making sure that you don’t move the egg off the bread. It is best to add the broth at the sides, not directly over the eggs. The heat of the broth should cook the eggs slightly.
Serve immediately—and warn your guests that the plates are hot!
Notes on Zuppa pavese
The success of a zuppa pavese lies in the goodness of its ingredients, and especially the bread and broth. If you don’t want to make your own bread, any bread with a good crust and a firm crumb will do fine, but if you don’t have homemade broth, I simply would not make the dish. Some recipes will have you cut the crust off the bread before frying, but I never do. For a slightly less rich concoction, toast the bread rather than frying it.
The heat of the broth will cook your eggs slightly, leaving the yolk quite runny. You cut open the yolk and let is mix into the broth, creating a velvety liaison. This traditional method will not cook your eggs completely, and not enough to kill off any salmonella. If you have any doubts about your eggs, and simply don’t like the idea of eating less than fully cooked eggs, you can put the completed dish back into the oven until you see that the whites are fully cooked. The yolks should, however, still be somewhat runny, otherwise they won’t ooze into the broth as a proper zuppa pavese should do.