Palline in Brodo alla Mantovana

Dumpling Soup, Mantua Style

There is no end to the variety of dumplings Italians make for soup. In the northeast, Alto Adige and Trentino, there are canederli made with liver, ham, spleen, or even dried fruit. In Tuscany, there are ricotta and spinach gnocchi There are the spaetzlelike passatelli from Romagna made of cheese and bread crumbs. There are Bologna’s long, skinny chenelle of rice and chicken livers. The tiny dumplings in this recipe are native to Mantua. They are made of bread crumbs, cheese, and egg flavored with pancetta, nutmeg, and a muffled hint of garlic. They are lightning fast to do, especially if you use the food processor. Do take what little time is necessary to shape them into very small balls. They are light but savory, and small bitefuls convey no more or less than the most desirable load of flavor to the palate.


  • ½ garlic clove, peeled
  • tablespoons chopped pancetta
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup toasted, unflavored bread crumbs
  • cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan), plus additional for the table
  • Tiny pinch grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • cups good homemade broth (beef, chicken, or a mixture)


  1. Combine the garlic, pancetta, and butter in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until the mixture becomes creamy and finely homogenized.
  2. Mix the bread crumbs with the grated cheese and shape into a mound on a pastry board or other work surface. Make a hollow in the center of the mound. Put the garlic and pancetta mixture into the hollow and add the nutmeg, egg, and several grindings of pepper. Draw the sides of the mound together and knead until it is a well-amalgamated paste. Shape into tiny balls little more than ½ inch thick.
  3. Bring the broth to a boil in a soup pot. Put in the dumplings and cook for about 5 minutes. Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan.