When outside it is cold, I can’t think of anything better than steaming soup.
Despite its name, Zuppa Imperiale is not a soup but a minestra.
And a typical recipe of Bologna.
Unlike other Bolognese pasta dishes, you don’t need to make sfoglia (pasta dough) to make Zuppa Imperiale.
For its easy preparation, you will need one bowl, fork, and mold to bake it in.
The history of a recipe
Zuppa imperiale is also a minestra with a history.
Pellegrino Artusi, an Italian writer and gastronomer, collected the recipe in his Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, 1891).
The origin is probably to research at the court of Marie Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine, wife of Napoleon I and lady of the Duchy of Parma. She brought from Austria a similar soup that underwent some modifications in Parma, for example, with the introduction of Parmigiano Reggiano into the recipe. The name derived from the preciousness of the ingredients (butter and Parmigiano) or, perhaps, from the fact that Maria Luigia was the wife of an Emperor.
Some believe that Zuppa Imperiale originated from a similar sister recipe, the soup in the bag typical of Romagna.
For sure, the two recipes have similarities but also significant differences. The latter is cooked only once, in the pouch, directly inside the broth, and contains finely chopped mortadella.
Certainly, Zuppa Imperiale is a typical dish in much of Emilia and Romagna. There is also a version of the region Marche that differs from the Bologna version because the dough is three different colors.
How to make Zuppa Imperiale
This is a less famous recipe than tortellini but just as delicious.
And to make Zuppa Imperiale, unlike many other Bolognese first courses, you don’t need to become a “black belt” of pasta dough rolled with a rolling pin. It’s also a meat-free recipe you can easily make gluten-free (read the Food Tips below).
You need just a handful of ingredients: eggs, butter, fresh and grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and fine semolina flour. And a pinch of nutmeg, the most used spice in Bologna to flavor, for example, the broth of tortellini, the béchamel sauce of lasagne alla Bolognese, or the filling of tortelloni.
Zuppa Imperiale is very easy and quick to make.
You have to melt the butter before mixing all the ingredients.
This way, you get a soft batter you pour into a pan before baking in the oven.
Once cooked, it looks like a rectangle just under 1/2cm high.
Cut into small squares. Now, to the complete dish, only one step is missing.
Zuppa Imperiale must cook in the broth for a few minutes.
Yes, because Zuppa Imperiale cooks twice: the first in the oven and the second in broth.
Serve it in the broth you prefer, capon, meat, or vegetable.
My favorite is the classic meat broth.
The Zuppa Imperiale was one of the winter dishes when I was a child
It was a recipe nonna cooked often for homely Sunday lunches and festive days. It was one of the many delights prepared by a loving nonna, a great cook, who turned every Sunday lunch of my childhood into a jubilee of flavors.
But the mini-me child did not realize how lucky she was. All those fragrant, delicious dishes were the norm.
When my grandmother baked Zuppa Imperiale, I couldn’t resist the crunchy, cheesy cubes. But when she shared it with the broth, I assumed a different attitude. I didn’t eat it.
And a pestiferous mini-me put her strategy into action.
I regularly sipped the broth and then reluctantly started eating one cube of Zuppa Imperiale at a time.
“Eat everything on your plate” was the motto of my parents.
No one could get up from the table until they had finished eating.
I can’t tell you the patience and steadfastness on the face of the rebellious gesture of a penny cheese (me) eating with deliberately exasperating slowness.
Today, I can say that I lost all those battles. Of course, Zuppa Imperiale won the “black shirt” of the worst. In my adult life, I stopped cooking and eating it for decades.
Then, my love for cooking and the desire to share these recipes on the blog made me realize it was time to overcome my childhood prejudices.
For the first time, I made Zuppa Imperiale, needless to say, without passion. I tasted it. And now it’s back on my table.
Buona cucina, Monica
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- If you don’t have to eat it straight away, after baking, leave it to cool, cut it into cubes, and store it in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer.
- Gluten-free version: replace the semolina flour with 50g of rice flour and 50g of potato starch.
- Usually, 80-85 g of Zuppa Imperiale is the amount per person.
- Zuppa Imperiale Recipe
- Choose the broth you prefer: meat broth, traditional; Capon stock, the broth of the holidays; seasonal vegetable broth.
Zuppa Imperiale (Imperial Soup)
- 100 g butter
- 4 whole eggs
- 100 g grated Parmigiano reggiano
- 100 g semolina flour
- 1 pinch baking powder less than 1/2 tsp
- 1 pinch grated nutmeg less than 1/2 tsp
- 1 pinch of salt less than 1/2 tsp
- 1 l meat broth you can opt for a veg stock
- Melt the butter, and let's cool down. Set aside.
- In a bowl, beat the eggs with a fork or a whisk, then add Parmigiano, semolina, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Stir.
- Drizzle the melted butter, not too hot, over the batter and continue stirring until the mixture is soft and fluffy.
- Choose a rectangular baking pan of 15x20cm or even smaller, line it with baking paper, or grease the bottom with butter or olive oil and pour the dough into the pan, spread evenly, and even out the surface with the help of a spatula.Kitchen note: the tray can be square or rectangular and never too small since Imperial Soup is, at most, 1/2 cm high. In this case, cut in half horizontally to reduce the height of cubes.
- Bake in preheated oven, 170C degrees (338F), for about 15 minutes or until edges and surface are lightly browned.
- Remove from oven and let cool.
- Place Imperial Soup on a cutting board or clean surface and cut into small cubes about 1/2 cm wide and tall. The Imperial Soup cubes absorb the broth, so they tend to expand like little sponges. Keep it in mind when you cut.
- Cook the Imperial Soup in the lightly salted hot broth for two minutes. Serve the soup hot.
- After baking in the oven, you can freeze the cubes of Imperial Soup.
- After baking in the oven, you can freeze the cubes of Imperial Soup.Cook the frozen Imperial Soup directly in the hot broth for 2-3 minutes.