A park in New Haven circa 1941. From left, Dora Barbaresi (my grandmother), pregnant sister Jean [Barbaresi] Borrelli, mother Lydia Barbaresi, and sister Edith [Barbaresi] Piccolo. Lydia died when I was a baby, but I do remember my Auntie Jean and Aunt Edith (both great-aunts to me). I thought Jean was very nice, but Edith scared the hell out of me!
What, you’ve never heard of passatellis? Neither has anyone else. Nonni pronounces it “passa-TAYS.” It’s a tubular pasta made from breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese that is served in chicken soup. This is another old recipe from the 1800's, passed down from the Polverari/Belbusti families of Castelvecchio in the Marches region. It evolved as an ingenious way of using up stale bread.
Growing up in the 1980's, I got used to the inevitable blank stares I'd receive when describing the Italian food that Nonni cooked for us. Sauceless pasta? In soup? It was as if I were Laotian trying to pass myself off as Italian. But, what of lasagna, manicotti, and ziti, they would inquire at recess? Well, Nonni made those, too, I clarified, but the pasta we hold most dear comes in soup. Then, they would beat me up.
Only a small handful of people in our family know how to make passatellis. Nonni freezes and bags them in big batches, but only the lucky ones get to bring them home!
I’m not sure how they shape them in Italy, but Nonni uses a meat grinder to extrude the noodles. You could also use the meat grinding attachment on your stand mixer.
4 cups plain breadcrumbs
3 cups Parmesan cheese
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of lemon zest
8 large eggs
In a large bowl or pot, mix breadcrumbs with cheese, nutmeg, and zest. Add eggs and mix thoroughly until cohesive dough forms. Make into small balls (about 2 inches in diameter) and set aside in a covered bowl.
One by one, put balls through a meat grinder to form thick strands. Cut strings to about 4- to 6-inch lengths and lay them out on the table to dry for several hours before cooking. To freeze, let them dry overnight before storing.
Serve in Nonni’s chicken soup. To cook, bring soup to a boil and add fresh or frozen strands (no need to defrost). Cook until done, about 3 minutes.
Dora [Barbaresi] Donroe
New Haven, Connecticut
Nonni’s homemade passatellis. Photo by Trish Barker.