IN ITALIAN, brodo simply means broth, but in the hands of chef Holly Smith, brodo is a magical potion and a ubiquitous ingredient at her Kirkland restaurant, Cafe Juanita. Enriched with bones, meat, aromatics and cheese, brodo becomes the basis for her zuppa della sera or seasonal risottos. Reduced, emulsified and brightened with acid, it’s the foundation of sauces for meat or pasta.
Chef pals have jokingly dubbed Smith’s brodo “barnyard broth.” That’s not far off. At the restaurant, all kinds of poultry, game and meat end up in the stock pot. But even without pulling a couple of rabbits or a guinea hen out of the fridge, Smith says home cooks can work a little magic of their own.
In her Richmond Beach kitchen, with her 10-year-old son, Oliver, playing sous chef, she demonstrated how to turn everyday chicken soup into the golden elixir she calls brodo.
Start with basic chicken stock. You can even use a commercial boxed broth or “Better Than Bouillon,” something Smith — a single, working mom — confesses she has done.
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“Oliver loves soup, and it’s a quick dinner,” she says. While Oliver plucks thyme leaves and trims the rind from Parmesan cheese, his mother pours about six quarts of pale chicken broth into a stock pot and adds raw meat on the bone. “You can just use chicken parts, but I find rabbit clarifies the stock naturally, because of the albumen in the bones.”
Parmesan rinds and prosciutto or pancetta are key to the flavor. Ask at the deli counter for prosciutto or pancetta ends, she advises. Save Parmesan rinds in the freezer, along with thyme and parsley stems and shallot trimmings, which go into the stock pot as well.
Bring the pot to a simmer, until tiny bubbles just break the surface. This takes nearly an hour for about 6 quarts. “Don’t let it boil or the soup will be cloudy,” she cautions. “Simmer for at least two, three hours or as long as you can go. Periodically skim off the scum and foam that rise to the top with the widest ladle you have.”
This yields a rich, golden-brown brodo for soup or risotto. Strain the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined colander and discard the solids. You can use the brodo right away, freeze it or reduce it further into a sauce.
For zuppa della sera at home, Smith says: Sauté some minced garlic for about a minute in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add the brodo and some chopped kale or other greens, carrots or chickpeas, marjoram or grated ginger, chili or lemon grass. Whatever you like. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.
Meanwhile in a skillet in the oven, blister some cherry tomatoes in olive oil. When the soup is ready to serve, microplane a little lemon zest into each bowl and ladle in the soup. Add the cherry tomatoes, dressed lightly with extra-virgin olive oil and kosher salt. Finish with grated Parmesan.
To reduce brodo for a sauce, bring it back to a simmer or low boil. Smith adds a splash of sherry vinegar at this point, and again later. “Getting the acid balance is tricky,” she admits. “I’m still learning.”
Figure on reducing a quart of brodo to make a sauce for two to four guests. When it has reduced by three-quarters, the color and body start to change. Once it achieves the intensity you want, whisk in some butter and a bit more vinegar to taste. Says Smith, “I love this with simple roasted chicken or as a sauce for capunet,” Piemontese stuffed cabbage rolls.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Erika Schultz is a Times staff photographer.