Zuppa Imperiale: Bologna's hidden soup

Christmas is the perfect time for Bolognese cuisine. Cold outside? What's better than a classic but a hidden soup, much less known than the famous tortellini. I usually show it during our food tour in Bologna because it's really unusual. It's called Zuppa Imperiale (Imperial soup). In the bakeries showcases you can mistake it for a cake, cut into small cubes. But you're not that far from the truth.
Zuppa Imperiale recipe is handwritten in my version of Pellegrino Artusi's book (around 1930)

The origins of Zuppa Imperiale

The origin of this recipe is not well known as Torta degli Addobbi rice cake. Its name refers to a noble and upper-class soup, maybe because of some of the used ingredients (like butter or Parmesan cheese) that were really expensive in the past.

Pellegrino Artusi, a monk and cook from Emilia Romagna, talks about Zuppa Imperiale in his book The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well published in 1891. Recipe number 15 in the soup chapter is 'Minestra composta con il semolino'. He doesn't refer specifically to Imperial Soup but the recipe is almost the same.

Download for free the pdf of this unique cookbook (in Italian).
Zuppa Imperiale cubes

The recipe

1 liter and a half of meat broth
8 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons of semolina
6 eggs
50 grams of butter
1 pinch of nutmeg
Black pepper

  • Slip the eggs in a bowl, add the Parmesan cheese and semolina, begins to work the mixture and then add the salt, pepper and nutmeg
  • Melt the butter in bain marie and pour in the mixture when it is already cold
  • Whisk until everything is soft and fluffy
  • Line a roasting pan (35 × 25 cm) with greaseproof paper, pour the mixture and then stick the pan in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes
  • As soon as it is golden brown, remove from oven and make it cool before cutting the dough into small cubes
  • Bring the broth to a boil, add the diced Imperial Soup and serve hot immediately (you can add some extra Parmesan cheese if you like)
Dough can be baked in the oven a day in advance, or can be placed in special bags for food and then frozen. When you want to cook it, be put straight into the boiling broth still frozen.
Zuppa Imperiale ready for the spoon

Where to eat Zuppa Imperiale

It's hard to find Zuppa Imperiale in a restaurants, even the most classic ones. Here are a few suggestions to eat it (only in autumn/winter).
1. Trattoria Di Via Serra, Via Luigi Serra, 9/b, 40129 Bologna BO
2. Osteria Bottega, Via Santa Caterina, 51, 40123 Bologna BO
3. Ristorante Cesarina, Via Santo Stefano, 19/B, 40125 Bologna BO

​Otherwise you can find it in almost all the bakeries of the city centre and prepare it at home with a warm hot capon broth.
Have you tried it? Do you like it? Let me know your opinion about this unique hidden soup.
[Photo credits Stefania Ricci Frabattista, Teresa De Masi]

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