Why It Works
- Slowly simmering beef short ribs with a mixture of aromatics creates the foundation for this rich and unctuous soup.
- Staggering the cooking times for the various ingredients yields perfectly cooked potatoes, peas, pantrucas (noodles), and eggs.
It amazes me that every culture seems to have its own version of a comforting broth and pasta soup. In Chile, our take is pantrucas: a hearty soup built on a beef or pork broth with potatoes, fresh eggless pasta, vegetables, and morsels of tender meat. The dish is often finished with beaten eggs whisked in for added body, garnished with abundant fresh cilantro—always chopped at the last moment—and served nonsensically hot, as if scalding one’s tongue was part of the recipe. Mainly cooked at home by older Chileans, this comforting soup is difficult to find in restaurants, except for traditional eateries in food markets, small cities, or the countryside.
Coming from the Mapudungun word “pangtruka,” meaning “soup made with dough pieces,” the recipe integrates the vegetable-laden traditional cooking of the indigenous Mapuche people with the extensive use of wheat flour brought by the Spanish. “Pantrucas” is both the name of the whole prepared dish and the word for the white, slippery noodles in it. In the singular form, a “pantruca” is each of the noodles, but funnily, also someone whose skin is extremely white.
The final touch of merken, a spicy, stone-ground seasoning made out of smoked, dried cacho de cabra peppers, coriander seeds, and sea salt, is also part of the Mapuche heritage. Pantrucas with merken is traditional in the central southern part of Chile, where I am from, (following the mapuche heritage that is still predominant in that region). I simply can’t have Chilean soups without merken. Its depth of flavor is hardly replaceable by other sources of heat. But in versions of the soup from Santiago and the surrounding central zone of Chile, merken is not used as an ingredient.The use of merken in my recipe is an excellent example of how because Chile is so long and diverse regarding climates and products, we often have many traditional recipes with slight variations in different regions. So while merken may not be used in pantrucas from Santiago and its surrounding central region, I encourage you to try this spicy, complex spice blend in my central southern Chilean-inspired pantrucas recipe, especially now that many sellers have it in the United States.
Pantrucas are one of those recipes we Chileans are made to believe only grandmas can properly make. The directions are just the starting point; devoting time, dedication, and love to it is key. However, some years ago I managed to discover another secret: Pantrucas is not just a dish made from scratch, but the consequence of something else—namely, leftovers.
In Chilean cuisine, it is common to boil meats for lengthy periods: beef tongue, pork or beef shanks, beef short ribs, or a spicy pork concoction called arrollado, are left simmering for hours, undisturbed in properly seasoned water. Traditionally, it’s this rich, already perfect leftover broth that is the foundation for our pantruca soup: Discarding it would be criminal. Pieces of the simmered meats and seasonal vegetables, such as peas or green beans, are added to the hearty soup.
A traditional cooking method for the pantrucas, often used by older ladies, involves cutting long dough strands, hanging them in the non-dominant wrist or over a shoulder, then cutting them with the other hand, one by one, and throwing them into the boiling broth. I tried the method, and while romantic, it yields uneven cooking and is time consuming. But if you feel like truly impersonating a Chilean grandma, go for it. The recipe here involves first rolling the dough,then cutting the pantrucas, before adding them to the soup all at once.
While this soup may be labor-intensive to make, that comforting moment of nestling the hot bowl while breathing in the aromatic broth just before enjoying that first noodle-filled slurp will be well worth the effort.
Pantrucas (Chilean Noodle Soup)
This comforting Chilean soup is served piping hot and consists of beef broth, fresh eggless noodles, and a balanced medley of spices and vegetables.
- For the Beef Broth:
- 2 pounds (900g) bone-in beef short ribs, cut into single-bone sections, or cross-cut beef shanks (osso buco)
- 2 medium carrots (about 8 ounces; 225g) , cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 medium celery ribs with leaves (about 5 ounces; 150g), cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 medium cloves garlic (10g), smashed
- 1 medium white or yellow onion (about 8 ounces; 225g), quartered
- 2/3 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
- 15 whole black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 grams salt
- 2 1/2 quarts (2.3L) cold water
- For the Pantrucas Dough:
- 10 ounces (285g) all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon (5g) kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 3/4 cup (177ml) lukewarm water
- For the Soup:
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium carrot (about 4 ounces; 170g), julienned
- 1 medium celery rib (about 2 1/2 ounces; 75g), finely diced
- 1 medium clove garlic (5g), minced
- 1 medium white or yellow onion (about 8 ounces; 225g), finely chopped
- 1/3 red bell pepper, julienned
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Chilean or good quality Italian
- 1 teaspoon Chilean ají de color or sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon (5g) kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound (455g) waxy potatoes (such as red potatoes or new potatoes), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup frozen peas
- For Serving:
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup (lightly packed) finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- Chilean merken, a pinch per portion, or crushed red pepper flakes or a few drops hot sauce
For the Beef Broth: In a large stockpot, combine short ribs, carrots, celery, garlic, onion, bell pepper, peppercorns, bay leaf, and salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, adjusting heat as needed to maintain simmer, until short rib meat is tender and can be pierced easily with a fork, 60 to 90 minutes. (If meat takes longer than 1 hour to cook, and excessive evaporation occurs, add more water as needed.)
Using tongs, transfer meat to cutting board and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large empty pot. Discard cooked vegetables. Skim excess fat from surface of the broth. Pick meat from bones, discarding excess membrane and fat, and dice meat into bite-sized pieces; set aside.
For the Pantrucas Dough: Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with a clean, lightly floured kitchen towel.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. With a wooden spoon, stir in lukewarm water until combined and some lumps form. Knead dough in work bowl into a rough ball that separates from the bowl. Transfer dough to a floured working surface and knead until smooth and soft, 2 to 3 minutes. If dough feels too wet, dust lightly with flour as needed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Cut rested dough into 3 equal sized pieces. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time (rewrap remaining dough), dust both sides lightly with flour, place cut side down on clean work surface, and press into a 3-inch square.
Using a rolling pin, roll into a 6-inch square. Dust both sides of dough lightly with flour. Starting at center of square, roll dough away from you in 1 motion. Return rolling pin to center of dough and roll toward you in 1 motion. Repeat rolling steps until dough sticks to work surface and measures roughly 12 inches long.
Release dough from counter (if sticking) and lightly dust both sides of dough with flour. Roll dough out, frequently lifting to release from work surface, until it measures roughly 20 inches long and 6 inches wide. Dough should be comparable in thickness to lasagne sheets, or 1/32 to 1/16 inch thick (1 to 1 1/2mm).
Using a knife or a pasta wheel cutter, cut dough sheet into 1 to 1 1/2-inch squares or diamonds.Transfer to prepared sheet and cover with a clean cloth. Repeat rolling and cutting with remaining dough pieces, lightly dusting with flour between each layer of cut dough pieces to avoid sticking.
For the Soup Base: In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add carrot, celery, garlic, onions, and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add oregano, Chilean ají de color, cumin, salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the reserved strained broth into the soup base.
Add potatoes and diced beef and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, adjusting heat as needed and stirring occasionally, until potatoes are almost cooked through but still meet slight resistance when poked with a paring knife, about 10 minutes.
Add peas and return to a boil over medium-high heat. Gently stir in pantrucas, making sure they do not stick together, and return to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pantrucas are just tender, about 2 minutes. Add more water if needed to thin soup.
For Serving: Pour beaten eggs into hot soup while stirring it into the broth with a fork. (Pour and stir slowly to produce thin distinct egg ribbons, or pour and stir quickly for the egg to fully emulsify in soup and thicken broth.) Simmer until egg is cooked and broth turns slightly opaque, about 1 minute, Season with salt to taste. Portion into preheated individual soup bowls. Top each bowl with cilantro and a pinch of merken. Serve.
Large stock pot, fine-mesh strainer, large Dutch oven or second stock pot, rolling pin, wheel pasta cutter
For a vegan version, substitute homemade or store-bought vegetable stock, omit beef, double amount of peas, and omit the beaten eggs.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The cooked beef broth can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month. Store cooked beef separately and cut beef before adding to the soup.
The wrapped pantruca dough can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours. Bring to room temperature before rolling out and cutting the dough.
Cut, raw pantrucas can be frozen: Spread them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid, then transfer frozen pantrucas to freezer bags and store frozen. Cook from frozen, adding 1 minute to cooking time.