One of my earliest memories regarding learning to feed myself was when I was still in a high chair. Mum had placed a small bowl of pastina in brodo (“little pasta in broth”) in front of me. I dipped the spoon in just like my mother did for me and I attempted to bring the brodo to my mouth. I looked down at the spoon and there was no brodo on the spoon at all. I could not understand where the brodo had disappeared to. Mum was a bit anxious about the mess but I distinctly recall my father telling my mother to leave me alone as I was trying to feed myself. I kept on looking about for the missing brodo, not realising it had fallen to the floor. I could see I was wearing some down my front but still I was frustrated because the brodo was gone. I could not work out how that approaching spoon my mother sent my way with a little story to accompany each mouthful was full of brodo and yet when I tried to feed myself for the first time in my life, the brodo had disappeared. I was way too young to make that conceptual link between cause and effect but the memory of my first attempted feeding has remained with me for life. I have an exceptionally sharp early childhood memory recall, even remembering one occasion when I was in the cot and visitors came to the back door. I could not speak yet but I stood up and started to make whimpering noises. My mother came into my room to reassure me the visitors were friends. I also recall hiding under the bed when my auntie’s sister visited as she would pinch my cheeks so hard, I would end up with black bruising that my mother could never figure out how I managed to acquire. A rather jealous, spiteful woman in reality. That woman had the evil eye. I was finally able to articulate my hiding underneath the bed response when a little bit older; much to my mother’s abject horror.
Food provides another set of memories in one’s life. A good quality beef or chicken broth has been the mainstay of my ancestral cuisine for who knows how long. My parents come from a part of the world where nourishing broth soups and minestras (“minestrone”) of a wide variety of combinations was a culinary mainstay; thanks to the influence of the Austro Hungarian empire that ruled that part of the world for centuries. Brodo appeared on the table every week, especially during financially strapped times for our family. To this day, the setting in of the colder time of the year always sees a request from my Anglo Australian husband, “can we have some brodo?”. My husband has cosmopolitan culinary tastes, thanks to years of visiting our family home and enjoying my late mother’s cuisine. Brodo has meant more than food. Brodo is sustenance and care and an emotional response to the colder weather and for care for the family. Honestly, if our grey suited world “leaders” sat down with a bowl of brodo and started talking, I am sure they would achieve social progress. My parents were brought up to believe that certain foods eaten at certain times of the year had the power to cleanse the blood. Brodo was one such food, along with spring greens and asparagus which were always prepared in early spring time to “cleanse the blood” and “make it lighter” for summer time. One of my uncles always had the view that certain foods made the blood thicker during winter time so spring greens were an essential part of the culinary regimen to lighten the blood and make one healthier. My parents believed in this concept too. All my ancestors used the moon phases for a guide to planting their highly productive vegetable gardens and fruit trees too. I have never argued with this train of thought. This thought is part of my very being and I too hold this view in this day and age. It does not pay to argue and disrespect ancestral thought.
Now, I know that chicken or beef stock can be purchased in a one litre container from the supermarket. That’s fine and dandy but in reality, the flavour of a good quality home made brodo cannot be surpassed by anything in a box. You will never find a bought container of stock on any shelf in my pantry. Brodo is a real no brainer to make and very easily frozen too. I know the “strapped for time” argument is trotted out increasingly in this day and age but the reality is this recipe a set and forget recipe that looks after itself until it is cooked. One cannot ask for more. I always have a few “bricks” of brodo in the freezer in case we feel like a bowl of brodo or my husband will ask for a home made risotto. Risotto always relies on a good quality home made stock as the essential ingredient.
I made chicken brodo the other day. I warn you now, you need a large sized pan for this recipe. Don’t muck around with small stock pots. Buy yourself a big pot for soup making. I started off with 1.5 kilograms of chicken legs – always washed of course and then dumped into a big pot I keep just for brodo, minestra and preserving. The five essential ingredients in a good brodo for me are carrots, leek, onion, tomato and celery. I always add some bay leaves from the garden and a big chicken stock cube and some peppercorns as well. You can use a whole chicken for this recipe instead of chicken pieces.
Add around 3 litres of cold water. Cold tap water is an essential part of the process of heating up the pan contents to slowly extract all the goodness out of the flesh and bones. Bring the pan contents to a gentle simmer and place the lid on but leave a tiny gap to stop any boil over. I simmer brodo for around 1 hour 15 minutes as a rule; during which time the clear water will take on a rich golden hue. During this time, I simply walk away to do other chores. I always set the kitchen timer though as my dyslexia most often stuffs up clock reading for me, confusing me entirely. If I am working in the vegetable garden, I will bring the kitchen timer out there so there is no chance of overcooking.
I always leave the pan contents to cool down somewhat and then I strain everything out of the brodo. I press the excess brodo out of the vegetables. The chicken meat is removed from the bones and eaten in the brodo or saved for other recipes. I usually eat the carrots as they take on the flavour of the brodo. The rest I discard into the compost heap. Bones are put into the rubbish bin though as I do not add any protein source to the compost heap. Doing this will bring in mice, rats and next up the food chain, Mr Joe Blake (snake). Now, you can eat brodo hot from the pan. I like to do this sometimes but will place a kitchen paper towel over the brodo surface and quickly slide the towel off. This has the effect of removing the golden circles of fat from the brodo surface. I will use several kitchen towels for this job until there is no more fat floating about. If you pop the brodo into the fridge overnight, the fat will set to a creamy white layer on top. This is easily removed and discarded.
One of my husband’s favourite brodo recipes is tortellini in brodo; Tortellini are said to have been shaped like Venus’ navel. An envelope of pasta surrounding a nice filling and the ends pinched together. I know that many people here in Australia cook tortellini and serve it up with sauces but the “authentic” manner of serving up this delicious filled pasta is to cook it in brodo. I tend to add a few vegetables to the brodo whilst the tortellini are cooking. The end result is a light and refreshing meal that is fit for a queen if you ask me. You can shred the cooked chicken into the brodo if you like, for added protein. I also save the chicken meat for sandwiches that are loaded up with a thick layer of Butter Crunch lettuce (from the garden) and a slick of mayonnaise.
Ladle the tortellini into a bowl, along with the vegetables and some extra brodo. Add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top if you like. Enjoy this simple meal that has been part of my ancestry for a very long time.
Remember to freeze up some brodo for later use. I freeze mine into smallish lunch boxes. I find square/rectangular shaped boxes stack most economically in the freezer. When the brodo is frozen, I slip it out of the box and slide the brodo brick into a freezer bag. Label and date and use within 3 months. After eating home made brodo can you really go back to using boxed up stock? I suspect not. Honestly for around 10 minutes’ preparation, you can wash your hands and walk away to do other things and end up with a supply of brodo ready to eat and some for the freezer. Brodo is food for the soul.