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November 8, 2010

So last night not only did I have five Italians at my dinner table, I had five Italians from Bologna at my dinner table. Since one such Italian was the wine importer (see photo of table below), events are a bit fuzzy. But I do remember quite clearly that bringing so much Bologna into what may be the world’s smallest dining room made for some hilarious conversation (how to swear properly in Bolognese dialect, for example) and made Francesco very, very happy.

Another good thing to come out of it? Three different versions of passatelli, arguably the most traditional dish from Emilia-Romagna (after, maybe, cappelletti in brodo or tagliatelle al ragù). Though passatelli are little known outside this region and completely unknown outside Italy, to the Italians last night? They are religion.


Passatelli are made from a combination of bread crumbs, parmigiano, flour, eggs and a pinch of nutmeg, formed into a dough then passed through a potato masher with holes and boiled for a minute or two in capon broth. They are usually served in the broth but can be eaten asciutti,”dry,” with grated grana or a few specific sauces. The perfect drink with your passatelli? Lambrusco of course. Some people from the area around Modena splash a bit of their lambrusco into the broth either to cool it down or, more commonly, into whatever broth’s leftover in their bowl. It’s like how we would add more cereal to the sweet leftover milk. Except with wine.

photo by Lee

I’d casually mentioned at last week’s long Sunday lunch how much I loved passatelli with mussels (almost blasphemous for a Bolognese) which I’d had at Scacco Matto in Bologna, and, having ignited something within them all, was promised a passatelli fest. Not one to miss such an opportunity, I insisted we quickly set a date and that is how I found myself with three courses of passatelli in front of me last night.

In order: passatelli con le cozze, passatelli con crema di parmigiano, and the classic passatelli in brodo.

My wonderful guest chef, Marco, brought all the ingredients to prepare them – including the schiacciapatate and a completely unrelated creme caramel –  while Piero brought the mussel sauce (and, achem, 12 bottles of wine, all of which were opened). After toasting my fresh bread to make bread crumbs in the blender, Marco mixed everything together by hand in a large bowl, set his homemade broth to boil and we were off.

First came the passatelli with mussels. And while I can’t tell you exactly what Piero put into the sauce, – probably mussels, garlic, chopped tomatoes, parsley, a healthy amount of olive oil, white wine and crack – it was beyond delicious. Next came the crema di parmigiano, or parmigiano veluté, a bechamel made with cheese rather than flour, kind of like an extra-sharp, macaroni and cheesy, puddle of gooey deliciousness. (I paid enough attention to scratch down an approximate recipe. I may have been half in the bag but I’m not stupid.) And finally, we pressed and boiled the remaining third of dough and served the last batch of passatelli in the broth. And while I usually like my passatelli asciutti and was therefore totally expecting to vote for the extra cheesy or the mussel version as my favorite, I think the passatelli in brodo stole the show. The homemade broth, enriched by having had 1 kg of passatelli boiled in it already, was perfect. I think we even came to the conclusion that the broth – which was rich and savory – “cleaned the palate.” After all, we were drinking 12 bottles of wine – almost anything would’ve cleansed the palate at that point – and there was still a second course to come.

Printable Recipes (for all below)


Grazie a Marco per questa ricetta fantastica. Le proporzioni qui bastano per 6 persone.

Use your kitchen scale to get the measurements right, and for the broth, don’t use anything but homemade. Serves 6

300 grams (10.5 ounces) very fine, dry breadcrumbs (preferably homemade, see below)

300 grams (10.5 ounces)  finely grated parmigiano or grana

100  (3.5 ounces) grams flour

7 eggs

1/3 nutmeg, finely grated

a pinch of salt & pepper

a lot of homemade broth (capon, chicken, or a combination of chicken & beef)

Mix the flour, bread crumbs, cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a very large bowl. Crack in the eggs and use a fork to break them up, then use your hands to knead it all together into a dough ball. It should be sticky but not stick to your hands.

Let the ball rest for a little while while you set the broth to boil.

When the broth is boiling, press small amount of dough through a potato masher with little holes and drop directly into the broth, and cook them in the boiling broth for 1 minute.

Add all the passatelli to the broth then serve them on the table and ladle them into individual bowls


Use a skimmer to remove the passatelli as they cook and place them in individual bowls. Top with broth, crema di parmigiano (see below) or just a good grating of parmigiano.


If you’ve ever made a bechamel, this will be easy peasy. Just substitute parmigiano for the flour. This would be delicious on pasta. The measurements here are approximate, so don’t worry about getting it perfect. Makes enough for 4 – 5 servings.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick / 50 grams) butter

100 grams (3.5 ounces, about 1 cup) parmigiano, finely grated

milk as needed (about 1/2 – 2/3 cup?)

In a small sauce pot, melted the butter over medium heat. When completely melted, add the cheese and stir for a few minutes as the mixture thickens. Slowly whisk in about 1/2 cup milk. Let the mixture cook for a few minutes over medium heat; you just want it to be bubbling lightly. Add more milk if it’s too thick, keep reducing if too liquidy. Serve over passatelli or pasta.


Worth the extra effort? I’m not sure. But a great way to use your blender and old bread!

1/2 loaf bread (preferably stale)

Preheat oven to 250°F / 150°C. If bread is not stale, cut it into slices and toast it in the oven for 30 minutes or so until hard. Rip bread into small pieces and blend in your food processor or blender until very, very fine. Put crumbs on a small tray and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until very dry. Ta-da!


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