Passatelli in brodo at Pasta e Cuore; fish ball soup at Sha Xian Snack.
Passatelli in brodo at Pasta e Cuore; fish ball soup at Sha Xian Snack.

KaiJune 18, 2024

A dream of broth

Passatelli in brodo at Pasta e Cuore; fish ball soup at Sha Xian Snack.
Passatelli in brodo at Pasta e Cuore; fish ball soup at Sha Xian Snack.

When I’m sick, there’s nothing I crave more.

This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.

As I write this, I have Covid. I am in bed, my laptop propped on my legs, a warm cat on my chest and a cup of tea dangerously resting on the quilt beside me. My throat feels like hell, but it could be worse. One of my friends, also infected, has lost her sense of taste. Coffee, she reports, is just hot water. My partner didn’t finish his morning coffee on the day he tested positive, and he hasn’t had a cup since, complaining that it tastes like dirt. I haven’t been caffeinating because I want to rest as much as possible, so I’m not sure where I sit on this spectrum. Thus far, I have retained all my senses, but my throat is only comfortable when I’m sipping something warm. And so, I dream of broth.

Last week on my 95bfm segment, Breakfast Food, Rachel asked: what is the difference between soup and broth? A good question, if we’re thinking about brothy soups like ramen, phở, chicken soup or, the king of soups, minestrone. However, a better question is about the difference between stock and broth, both clear liquids filled with nourishment.

The short answer is that stock is generally made from bones while broth is made from flesh, which follows their differing uses: the former as an ingredient in other dishes (said soup, but also stews and braises, curries, risotto, gravies, and so on) while the latter can be a dish in its own right, or a very significant component of one, as with ramen, phở, bouillabaisse or tom yum. The longer answer gets into things like cooking times (stock is long; broth, less so), seasoning (stock is often left unseasoned), use of aromatics and texture. Perhaps the best way to differentiate them is to consider their goals: we boil bones to extract collagen and create a thick, velvety texture in various dishes, while the goal of broth, with its various extra seasonings, is to create something delicately flavoured and intensely savoury, something you’d be happy to sip unadulterated, from a cup.

At some restaurants, this is how broth is served. On my birthday, I had deep, umami smoked tomato broth at Forest, served in an amber glass teacup, topped with a slick of toasted garlic chive oil. At Cazador, every Feast begins with a rough ceramic cup of rich, warming broth of game meat (quail, venison, duck) and pungent herbs (caraway, watercress, kawakawa), like a potion. Whenever I see broth on a menu, I order it.

Bad pic, great broth at Forest.

The best broth I’ve ever had was when my friend Dara Klein – now head chef and founder at Tiella in London – was practicing recipes for her pop-up. In the tiny, grubby blue kitchen at my Eden Terrace flat, she performed some kind of sorcery, emerging with bowls of yellow tortellini stuffed with pork in a rich golden broth. I was reminded of Dara’s broth last weekend, at Pasta e Cuore, when I saw passatelli in brodo on the menu. An excellent cucina povera dish of short, rough noodles made from bread crumbs, parmesan and eggs, Dara is the only reason I knew to order it – it’s her favourite dish, one she will post images of on her Instagram whenever she returns to Bologna. And thank god I did know, because it was heaven. If comfort food exists, it was in my bowl of passatelli in brodo.

I wanted to end this by describing a broth I made for myself that soothed my throat, mind and spirit. Maybe I could even make passatelli – I have the ingredients on hand – but I’m too exhausted. In lieu of passatelli, broth or this glorious essence of chicken that my algorithm keeps cruelly delivering to me, I simply have mug upon mug of tea, peppermint, fennel, rooibos, licorice, lavender. Maybe later I’ll find the energy to open a packet of instant ramen, using less water than the instructions call for, pouring in the sachet of damp brown umami powder into the pot, stirring with a chopstick, the quickest broth of all.

Keep going!