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Ask an Italian for some stracciatella, and you may be served any one of three totally not the same foods: ice cream, cheese, or soup. It's confusing.
The link lies in the meaning of stracciatella*, which comes from the Italian word for rags—stracci. In each case, the food in some way resembles rags (or, if not rags, certainly shreds, which is all a rag really is, a bit of shredded old cloth).
*There's one other link, which is that the origin story of stracciatella ice cream claims that it was named after the soup.
For the ice cream, the shreds the name refers to are little bits and streaks of chocolate that form during churning when hot melted chocolate is drizzled into the milky ice cream base. For the cheese, the shreds are strings of buffalo mozzarella cheese bathed in cream—a combination that is best known as the filling for burrata.
The soup, which is the focus of this article, is essentially an Italian egg drop soup. There are versions of it made throughout Italy, but the most famous goes by the name stracciatella alla romana, which just means it's in the Roman style.
It starts with a rich meat broth, whether made from chicken or beef, and a beaten mixture of eggs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is added to the pot, after which the mixture is beaten some more. Unlike in Chinese egg drop soup, where the egg forms long, silky wisps, the egg mixture in stracciatella forms little Grapenut-size scrambles.
The soup is so simple that there's not a ton to write about it. So here are the main points:
First, make sure you use a delicious broth. It's very exposed here, so store-bought stock is not the best idea. Make a good homemade chicken stock (you can even do it very quickly in the pressure cooker, whether using a stovetop or electric model). Or, make an easy beef broth by simmering stew meat, beef bones, and/or ground beef with aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot, celery, and garlic for at least an hour (again, the pressure cooker will make quick work of this, too, cutting the time down to 30 to 45 minutes).
When you're ready, heat the strained broth, season it lightly with salt (remember that the cheese is salty, too, so don't add too much salt yet—you can always add more later if it needs it), beat your eggs with the cheese, then whisk them in.
To finish the soup, try seasoning it with a light grating of nutmeg, or some freshly grated lemon zest, or even a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Some minced parsley never hurts either, and it adds a little color too.
It's similar enough to classic chicken soup to scratch that comfort-food itch, but different enough to feel like a change of pace. It can add a feeling of warming sunshine on a cold day, just one more example of how to turn rags to riches.
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