Our nine day stay in Sicily was coming to an end and one of our final dinners was going to be memorable. Every time I travel back to my family’s homeland I try to make a celebration out of the last evening.
I wasn’t feeling too well as I caught a cold and a slight cough from traveling. If I was home, I would probably just have a bowl of broth. For some reason, broth always gives me energy. Jewish people call it their penicillin but Sicilians actually do the same thing and prefer a beef or chicken broth with a little pasta as a remedy.
Hmmm … old-fashioned comfort food. Pasta and broth will always work. My mother and father raised me on this, and still today my wife makes it for me.
I was in need of broth or a doctor. You will find out in my story that I not only found a great restaurant in Palermo, I found the doctor of broth. I also researched and found out a little history of the restaurant.
The oldest inhabitants of the old town center of Palermo like to tell that during an epidemic that struck the city at the beginning of the 20th century the people who went and had something to eat at Casa del Brodo immediately felt a sense of comfort, so much so that they came back again and again to taste the famous boiled meat, one of the specialties of the restaurant.
The rumors soon spread all over the city so that people just went there to simply drink a cup of broth, which was so beneficial and made them recover all the strength that had been lost after the illness.
This was a time of great poverty and many among those customers did not have the means to buy that beneficial cup of broth, so the owner and founder of the restaurant, Salvatore Catanese, did not send them away but offered them that drink which, as the popular rumor had it, was so helpful to one’s health.
From then on, next to the board of the historical restaurant in Palermo another board reads “at the doctor.” It is by that name that nowadays the restaurant is commonly known in and outside of Palermo so that when people decide where to meet for lunch or dinner it is sufficient to say let’s meet at the “broth doctor.”
It was then that Salvatore Catanese decided to specialize in this field and opened a restaurant in 1890 in the same and current location.
We started with the antipasti table consisting of over 18 dishes, all extraordinary from the capanata to the marinated olives to the typical Sicilian starters such as sarde a beccafico (sardines rolled in slices of sandwich loaf with raisins and pine-kernels), rolls of aubergines, musso (boiled cartilages) and many more as offered by the tradition of Palermo.
But my mind and heart were set on the upcoming broth course, the most popular being the traditional broth cooked after an ancient recipe, followed by the tortellini in brodo (stuffed, homemade pasta in meat broth) along with the boiled meat with potatoes and tongue.
We enjoyed the frittella (broad beans, peas, artichokes and ricotta cheese), macco di fave (broad bean soup), pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines), busiate alla glasse (homemade pasta with stewed potatoes and beef), linguine con polpa di ricci (homemade pasta with sea urchin pulp), agnolotti al brasato (stuffed, homemade pasta with braised meat) and risotto con frutti di mare (rice with mussels).
Ahhhh … I was already feeling better. The brodo was working. I felt so much better I just had to order a cannoli for dessert. Don’t forget, I was on the Cannoli Trail.
The family tradition still goes on these days. After Salvatore the restaurant has been managed by his son Antonino, from whom the founder’s nephew, Salvatore, took over: today the new owners are the two daughters Maria Luisa and Rosanna together with the nephews Ada and Gaetano.
And so my friends, if you’re in Palermo, Sicily and you’re in need of a doctor, there’s only one place to visit. Just ask anyone in town and they will send you to the doctor … Casa del Brodo
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.