CLAUDETTE HERRING & LAUREN PHILLIPS
When one considers quick-and-easy dishes, soup is a category that rarely springs to mind. At Via 45 in Red Bank, however, every bowl of stracciatella soup is made to order and can be customized to accommodate both the dietary preferences of the customer and the contents of the restaurant’s larder. The classic dish is so popular that co-owners Claudette Herring and Lauren Phillips keep it as a staple on their ever-changing menu of rustic Italian foods. The spontaneous soup makes a tasty, satisfying dish from ingredients that are always on hand. It is fresh and versatile. And, for Herring, it is the taste of home.
Stracciatella is a classic Roman dish that, according to the region’s official tourism website, was once one of the main dishes of that city’s cucina povera (peasant cooking or, literally, kitchen of the poor). The name refers to the shredding (stracciare) of the eggs into little rags (straccetti) as they are stirred into the hot stock. Despite its simplicity, the recipe has many variations.
Born and raised in Italy, Herring often had stracciatella as a child. It was a dish from her mother’s own childhood and reflected the practical needs of feeding a family when resources were scarce. “When it’s peasant food, you are buying simple things but you want to create a dish that everybody enjoys,” Herring says. “When you didn’t have a lot that you could afford, it created a meal. It created something that had substance, and it fed the family.”
The soup begins with diced onions sautéed in a small amount of oil. That oil can be whatever vegetable oil you have in the house, Herring and Phillips note, but steer clear of strongly flavored oils such as extra-virgin olive oil. “You want to have the flavor of the onions,” Herring says. “You don’t want to have the overpowering of an extra-virgin olive oil. Some have a distinct bite. You don’t want to have that as the flavor of your soup.”
Season the onions during the sauté and, once they are golden and translucent, add roughly chopped spinach. Sauté briefly and then add the stock of your choice. Chicken stock is classic. Vegetable stock is also an option. Herring’s mother often made hers with homemade beef stock. If you don’t have any stock on hand, Herring and Phillips say, it is fine to use water.
Lightly beat the eggs—the number of which can vary depending on your preference. Once the soup comes to a boil, pour the egg into the pot while stirring the soup with a fork. This shreds the egg as it cooks, which takes less than a minute. Ladle the soup into bowls, top with cheese and, if you like, croutons made by crisping cubes of day-old bread in butter. A tomato-basil salad and some crusty bread completes the meal.
Stracciatella is infinitely flexible. Chicken or shrimp can be added. Shallots or a bit of garlic can be used in place of onions. If spinach is not available, one can use escarole or Swiss chard. Herring has even made it with salad greens. “If you have wilted greens and you want to get rid of them but you’re not in the mood for a salad, you do a quick sauté and, believe it or not, it’s very tasty,” Herring says. “You can do romaine. You can do any light lettuces in the soup.” Herring’s mother makes several versions, including one with just bread cubes crisped in butter, cheese, water and egg. “That’s really old school,” Herring says.
Herring and Phillips often rely on stracciatella at the end of a long evening behind the stove. “When you’re home late at night,” Herring says. “You really don’t want to sit there and wait an hour. This soup takes like five minutes.” “And,” Phillips adds, “it’s satisfying.”
“It’s just unique,” Herring says. “It’s a flavor that I grew up with—a soup that I grew up with and loved every single time.”
45 Broad Street, Red Bank