The region of Emilia-Romagna in north-central Italy is home to some of the most exquisite fresh egg pastas in the country: tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagne, cappelletti, gramigna, garganelli… as well also many more you probably haven’t heard of. The region boasts 23 different shapes of pasta in all! No wonder that, for many Italians, the region is practically synonymous with fresh egg pasta.
Today’s featured recipe from Emilia-Romagna is kind of a cross between a fresh pasta and a dumpling in a similar vein to Spätzle. Called passatelli, these little morsels are made with equal parts breadcrumbs and grated parmigiano-reggiano seasoned with nutmeg and lemon zest, then mixed with egg to form a dough which you press into delicate strands. Traditionally this was done with a special purpose ferro, a slotted flat disk with two handles which you’d press down into your dough. These days a potato ricer with large holes is the usual instrument of choice.
Passatelli in brodo are delicious any time of year, but in their home region of Emilia-Romagna they have a particular connection to Christmas, when they served classically in homemade capon broth as a primo, or first course—a lighter (and easier!) alternative to the iconic tortellini in brodo, while the boiled bird, often stuffed, is served as a secondo or second course.
But even if you’re not following a traditional Italian menu, passatelli are an excellent option as a starter for your Christmas dinner. They could be served in any homemade broth you prefer, and they’ll go with just about any second course you can imagine. And they’re light enough so there’ll be plenty room for your main course.
- 1 egg
- 50g (2 oz) fine plain breadcrumbs
- 50g (2 oz) freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
- a scrape of nutmeg
- grated lemon zest (just a smidgen)
- homemade broth, q.b.
Beat the egg(s) in a mixing bowl, then add the remaining ingredients (except for the broth). Mix with a spoon until the egg is incorporated, then work the mixture with your hands into a homogenous ball of dough:
Wrap the dough in film wrap and let rest for at least an hour at room temperature.
When you’re ready to cook, bring broth to a gentle simmer while you make your passatelli.
Take one portion of the passatelli dough and put it in a potato ricer with large holes, then squeeze it through the holes onto a cutting board, cutting them into short lengths like so:
(NB: Alternatively, you can squeeze the passatelli directly into the simmering broth, cutting them as needed as you go.)
Transfer the passatelli gingerly into the broth and simmer for about 1-2 minutes. The passatelli will be done when they have expanded slightly and turned a lighter shade of yellow. Do not stir.
Serve immediately, with additional grated cheese on the side for those who want it
The recipe for passatelli is simplicity itself, as we’ve seen. The main pitfall us their tendency to fall apart in the cooking, as they are quite delicate. But you can avoid this if you bear in mind a few tips from Uncle Frank:
First off, use fine breadcrumbs—if in doubt, you can whiz them in a food processor. Then make sure you respect the ratio of egg to breadcrumb/cheese indicated. Many Italian recipes are forgiving when it comes to measurements, but this is not one of them! You can vary the 1:1 ratio of breadcrumb to cheese, if you like. A “poor man’s” version of passatelli would feature more breadcrumb and less cheese. Personally, though, I’d recommend not messing with the recipe, especially on your first try. Along with the egg, the cheese also acts as a binder.
Resting the dough is the key step for successful passatelli. A proper rest allows the egg to fully impregnate and in so doing bind the bread and cheese together. Oddly enough, recipes are all over the map on the time required. Some say as little as 15 or 30 minutes, but most call for a rest of an hour or even two. If you’re using fresh breadcrumbs you probably need less time than if you’re using commercial breadcrumbs, which are very dry. To me, one hour seems like a good rule of thumb.
And when it comes time to cook your passatelli, make sure the broth simmers very gently. A rolling boil is a sure way to break them up. And whatever you do, don’t stir the pot.
That said, you shouldn’t fret too much. If you respect these few precautions, all should be well. And even if your passatelli do fall apart, it won’t be the end of the world. It happened to me the first few times I tried making passatelli. It’s not ideal in terms of visual appeal or mouth feel, but the taste will still be fine.
Choosing Your Ingredients
Of course, with a dish this simple, the quality of the ingredients is paramount. You want good quality plain breadcrumbs. And you also want true parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated. Organic eggs will provide better flavor, too. And you definitely want to use homemade broth. It can be the traditional capon broth, of course, but also chicken or beef or, best of all in my view, a mix of the two. And you could go for vegetable broth if you like.
While in brodo is by far the most common way to enjoy passatelli, there do exist recipes for passatelli asciutti (or ‘dry’ passatelli) you dress with a sauce. Of course, you still simmer them briefly, usually in broth, but then you strain them and toss them (gingerly!) with a light, usually butter-based condimento. Some of these I’ve seen include sautéed mushrooms, clam, sausage and radicchio, and fish. But I’ll leave the details for future posts…
Making passatelli ahead
Passatelli are best made the same day. And anyway once you prepare the dough they take next to no time to prepare. Still, if you want to make them ahead, you can store them in the fridge up to overnight. I also understand you can freeze them, but disclaimer: I haven’t tried this myself. Whether refrigerated or frozen, you should toss your passatelli directly into your broth without defrosting.
Passatelli in brodo
- 1 egg
- 50g 2 oz fine plain breadcrumbs
- 50g 2 oz parmigiano-reggiano freshly grated
- a scrape of nutmeg
- lemon zest (just a smidgen) grated
- homemade broth q.b.
- Beat the egg(s) in a mixing bowl, then add the remaining ingredients (except for the broth). Mix with a spoon until the egg is incorporated, then work the mixture with your hands into a homogenous ball of dough.
- Wrap the dough in film wrap and let rest for at least an hour at room temperature.
- When you're ready to cook, bring broth to a gentle simmer while you make your passatelli.
- Take one portion of the passatelli dough and put it in a potato ricer with large holes, then squeeze it through the holes onto a cutting board, cutting them into short lengths. (NB: Alternatively, you can squeeze the passatelli directly into the simmering broth, cutting them as needed as you go.)
- Transfer the passatelli gingerly into the broth and simmer for about 1-2 minutes. The passatelli will be done when they have expanded slightly and turned a lighter shade of yellow. Do not stir.
- Serve immediately, with additional grated cheese on the side for those who want it.
Your passatelli look perfect, Frank. I made them using homemade bread crumbs, but since the bread crumbs were made from leftover crusts of whole wheat bread, they came out quite dark, not at all attractive like yours. They are such a comfort food. I need to try again with fine, whote bread crumbs.
Thanks, Linda! Yes, as a matter of fact, I’ve had less luck with homemade breadcrumbs than with store bought, too. Seems counterintuitive but ….
I never had passatelli in Emilia-Romagna! Now I feel like I missed out. Hope to try these myself though, so easy!
They are! I think you’d really enjoy them, Christina. 🙂
una ricetta fantastica! Li proverò, mi piacciono tanto!
Love passatelli very, very much! My grandmother used to make spatzle also but she used all purpose flour not bread crumbs. Soooo tasty also! Happy New Year!
Yes, Spätzle are wonderful, too. Thanks so much for stopping by!
Spätzle and passatelli they look similar, probably they are really closely related to each other they even sound similar, probably the German version came from this. Those pasta are gorgeous!
Thanks, Raymund. I’ve never looked into whether there’s any direct historical connection between Spatzle and passatelli but they’re definitely cousins in spirit.
This was our starter for our new year’s eve menu a few hours ago. We had it with home made beef stock. The touch of lemon zest makes the difference. Thank you. Happy New Year.
Sounds like a lovely way to send out the old year and ring in the new, Johannes. Happy New Year to you and yours!
your soup bowl is so lovely Frank. Have a fabulous New Year! cheers sherry
Same to you, Sherry!
Oh, I meant to add, hope you and yours have a happy and healthy new year!
Thanks so much, Eva. Same to you and yours!
This is definitely my kind of soup, Frank. I love the shape of the delicate noodles too, and I wondered if they had been extruded from a potato ricer. I only have a fine ricer, do you think that might work? Your tips at the end are awesome, can’t wait to try this recipe.
Depends on how small the holes are. Passatelli can be finer than pictured here for sure, but at a certain point they’d be too think to stay together. Why not give it a try and see?
I’ve never had the pleasure of having passatelli, Frank. It sounds and looks so good!
Thank you for sharing.
They really are lovely Roz. Well worth a try! Buone feste!
Thanks for sharing! This recipe reminds me my childhood. My father loved it.
Happy Holidays Frank. Buone Feste, Paola
Glad to bring back those lovely memories, Paola. Buone feste anche a te!
Fascinating. I’ve never seen a dough quite like that! Merry Christmas!
It’s quite unique. And also quite good. Hope you try it!
I’ve never had passatelli in brodo but they sound like a nice and light course to share with friends one Christmas. I hope you have had a nice Christmas Day.
Thanks, Karen! And a belated Merry Christmas to you, too!
“A cross between a fresh pasta and a dumpling” containing cheese! That sounds like a winner to me and I’ve got a potato ricer, stale bread, parmigiano-reggiano and 3 pints of turkey broth (already!) in the fridge. Merry Christmas Frank!
A belated Merry Christmas to you, too, MD!
Passatelli are on my to do list, but not this year as I’m fast running out of time!
Well, there’s always next year… 😉
Ciao Frank, Grazie per questa ricettina su i passatelli, in brodo e’ la migliore, specialmente se il brodo è sposato con un bicchierino di Jerez. Buone feste e aspettiamo di ricevere le tue sempre interessanti ricette per tutto il 2023. God Bless.
Grazie, Vittorio! Buon anno anche a te!
So simple and so delightful ! Since I was a ‘Hungarian wife’ for a few short years and even spent a memorable summer (still in Russian times !) in Budapest. nokedli is well known to me 😉 ! But why worry about ricers . . . an ordinary kitchen colander works fine – just keep on passing a knife back-and-forth under it whilst holding over a pot of boiling water 🙂 ! . . . and here’s hoping for peace and enjoyment for you in the days to come . . . !
Thanks so much, Eha! Happy holidays to you and yours!
I’m so glad you showed the ricer — I’ve never seen one with large holes. Will have to look.I make spätzle all the time (in fact I will for Christmas night to go with chicken paprikas) but have never known how t9 make passatelli. I can’t wait to find the ricer and make this!
I think you’ll really enjoy them, David. You’ll find ricers with different inserts which is a great little tool to have!
Frank, Buon Natale!
Buon Natale anche a te, Nick!
I can see the similarities here to spätzle for sure! I love a good egg pasta, and this recipe sounds fantastic. Thanks, Uncle Frank!!
You’re welcome! 😉
Looks great Frank! And as you say a great starter option for Christmas Day! Hope you have a good one and a great New Year too!
Thanks, Neil! Happy holidays to you and yours!