Taste: Recipe: Having a Ball

Frank Marandino, concierge of the Rittenhouse Hotel and Condominiums, is used to directing guests all over town to satisfy their desires. If asked to suggest a matzo ball soup, however, Marandino might have a more parochial recommendation: his own. An amateur chef, Marandino three years ago mentioned to a customer (he was in the financial industry at the time) that he made his own matzo ball soup, and she immediately ordered four gallons for a Passover seder. “She was incredibly pleased,” Marandino recalls, and began to put in twice-monthly orders. Since then, his clientele has expanded, and he now makes deliveries to agents at two local real-estate offices and a handful of Rittenhouse residents, including Melanie Hopkins, the late Councilman Thacher Longstreth’s longtime aide and companion.

Raised in South Jersey by a Dutch-Irish mother and an Italian father, Marandino has — in the absence of an heirloom recipe — tweaked the instructions on the back of a Manischewitz box. “The secret ingredient is definitely schmaltz,” he says, referring to the chicken fat that is a staple of Jewish cooking. (He buys his off the shelf.) “It makes a heavier matzo ball, but it’s worth it for the taste.” He emphasizes as well the importance of fresh eggs and homemade chicken stock. In the might-as-well-be-Talmudic debate over the ideal nature of a matzo ball, Marandino opts for Solomonic moderation; he prefers neither big nor small (he aims for a little daintier than a billiard ball), and rejects extremes of fluffy or dense. “They’re nice and tender, but they have some heft,” he says. “They still float.” When he is asked to assess the closest thing his version has to a rival — a room-service matzo ball soup from the decidedly non-amateur kitchen of chef Jean-Marie Lacroix — a concierge’s grace replaces the cook’s pride. “I wouldn’t want to compare mine to Chef’s,” Marandino says.

Matzo ball soup

    4    large eggs, very fresh
    2    Tbsp. melted schmaltz, cooled
    2    Tbsp. canola oil
    2    tsp. salt
    1    package Goya instant chicken bouillon
 1/4    c. chicken broth
    1    c. Manischewitz matzo meal

Whip eggs with schmaltz, oil, salt, bouillon and broth in a wide metal mixing bowl. With a rubber spatula, mix in the matzo meal thoroughly, scraping the sides of the bowl. Cover with foil and refrigerate for two hours.

With oiled hands, roll matzo mixture on an oiled sheet of waxed paper into one-and-a-half-inch balls. Recipe will make 12 to 15 matzo balls.

Add matzo balls individually to simmering stock. Cover and continue to simmer for 25 minutes. Remove meat from chicken bones (reserved from stock recipe, below) and shred. Add chicken to the soup and simmer for five minutes. Serves three to four.

Chicken stock

    4    chicken breast halves with rib meat, well rinsed
    1    large can (46 oz.) Cento chicken broth
    3    c. water
    10    white peppercorns
    3    carrots, chopped
    3    celery stalks, chopped (including inner stalks with celery                     leaves, minced)

To large soup pot, add chicken, broth, water and peppercorns. Simmer, skimming frequently. When fat no longer rises to the top, cover and let simmer for two hours. Remove chicken and set aside. Skim stock again, removing peppercorns. Add carrots and celery to stock and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.