Here's everything you need to know to make "pasta en brodo."

By Alex Van Buren
March 22, 2018

It’s a weeknight, you have the fridge open, and you’re starting to glaze over. You must have something in there that could constitute a meal, right? You spy that one bowl of leftover pasta, and sigh…. Last night you used the good old “put an egg on it” trick. But tonight, you want something different—particularly if you’re feeling like you need a boost of good-for-you minerals.

We’ve all been there, which is why it’s always a good idea to have homemade chicken broth on hand. Once you start making broth out of leftover bones, it becomes habit. (You can even make it in a slow cooker or pressure cooker for some of the best bone broth ever; just be sure you don’t overfill the latter.) Chicken broth truly is as easy as throwing leftover bones into a big pot full of water along with a hunk of onion, another of carrot, a bay leaf, star anise, cloves, black peppercorns, and parsley stems. Bring everything to a boil, lower it to a simmer, and skim off any impurities. (If you’ve used your pressure cooker, just let it cool before use, and skim off the top.)

Freeze extra stock in an ice cube tray dedicated to chicken broth, pop the cubes into freezer-proof bags, and you’ll have small amounts handy for risottos, sauces, and—crucially—noodles. Pasta en brodo (in broth) is a classic Italian preparation, and you’re already familiar with the charms of chicken-noodle soup. Studies have shown that chicken soup could truly have medicinal value, and it certainly packs in the nutrients, especially if you fold in vegetables.

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Cooking noodles in broth is as simple as it sounds: Just bring salted chicken broth to a boil—enough to cover the pasta (it doesn’t have to be a ton)—and toss in short, stout noodles. We find those easier to deal with than longer options such as fettucine or spaghetti, and they tend to plump up in a very toothsome, tasty fashion. (Think: orecchiette, macaroni, and penne.) When the pasta is nearly done, add cooked vegetables or those that cook quickly, such as peas or finely chopped kale. When it’s all ready, pour it into bowls. No draining required!

A few extra options: You could add Parmesan rinds, which some of us store in the freezer, to the broth as it comes up to temperature, then pluck them out just before adding the pasta. The rinds add a certain umami boom to the finished product. When the noodles are cooked and everything is plated, add a final flourish of shaved Parmesan and a tiny swirl of olive oil to each bowl.

If you want more protein, fold in canned or cooked white beans, such as cannellini, or add a soft-cooked egg, split, on top of the broth. If you have parsley kicking around, chop it roughly and sprinkle it on top. If you’re a pepper person, crack some pepper on there.

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The reason this dish is so satisfying is partly thanks to the noodles’ starch. Pasta cooking water is considered “liquid gold” in Italian cuisine, and is often reserved to add to fancy sauces to help them emulsify. The noodles’ starch thickens up the chicken broth in the same way. What you end up with is lovely, tender pasta with a meaty, super-savory flavor profile in a little bit of broth: capellini or orecchiette or macaroni en brodo.

And you are very fancy indeed.