Winter weekends are just made for hearty soups, especially on those days when you are dodging snowflakes or stuck indoors because the weather’s just too cold. So when I found myself shut in during the Great Blizzard of ’13, I pulled out the cookbooks on the hunt for a great soup. Now Italian Wedding Soup is a staple on many a soup board in New York. For some strange reason, I’d never eaten it. But with its comforting chicken broth, its tiny pastas and robust meatballs, and its good-for-you vegetables, it seemed like the perfect thing to serve for a Saturday supper. And the perfect place to find a recipe for it is from Easthampton’s own, Ina Garten. The recipe, from Ina’s 2008 classic “Back to Basics” (Clarkson Potter), is none too labor intensive—if you don’t count the part about making your own stock. But stock-making on a cold day is almost therapeutic. I’ve included Ina’s own recipe for Chicken stock after the Wedding Soup recipe. Since I did go ahead and use homemade stock, I can’t vouch for a version without it. But supermarket broth is certainly an option. Just let me know how it tastes!
|The Wedding Scene from
No evidence that Italian
Wedding Soup was served
Italian Wedding Soup is two bad translations from the Italian. In Italy, the phrase ‘si sposano bene’ means ‘to marry well’. There’s a soup in Italy called “Minestra Maritata”. In this case, the marriage of greens and meat in a clear broth is such a great combination that the soup is described as ‘si sponsano bene’. In neither case does the name has anything to do with Weddings. The only marriage it celebrates is the marriage of the flavors of the soup. In the United States however it has become a very popular tradition at Italian American weddings.
When I was researching the recipe, I found lots of variations of this recipe. There were versions that used veal and pork meatballs, some turkey, and some that used all beef. Ina’s version seemed healthiest, with its ground chicken and chicken sausage meatballs. There were also versions using all kinds of greens from escarole to kale to broccoli rabe. But in our house, spinach is the most welcome. Finally there’s the pasta. Ina used tubatini, another small pasta like the ditalini I used. But many recipes called for Orzo. The key here is the size of the pasta—small—so it doesn’t take over the soup. As you can see, you have a free hand with this recipe. I had a rind of parmesan cheese that I couldn’t let go to waste. Into the soup pot it went. Served with a nice big helping of grated parmesan and with a garlic toast fresh from the oven, the dish was everything a winter supper could hope to be: Warm, comforting, substantial. Here’s the recipe:
Recipe for Ina Garten’s Italian Wedding Soup from “Back to Basics” Makes 16 cups of soup. Freezes beautifully so you can some the next cold day.
For the meatballs:
3/4 pound ground chicken
1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 tablespoons milk
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the soup:
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
10 cups homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
First, make the meatballs:
Place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork.
With a teaspoon, drop 1 to 1 1/4-inch meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (You should have about 40 meatballs. They don’t have to be perfectly round.) Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.
In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.
Ina Garten’s Recipe for Chicken Stock:
This recipe makes 6 Quarts of Chicken Stock. When making stock, quantity makes a lot of sense. The Italian Wedding soup requires all of 10 cups or 2 ½ quarts. The remaining stock can be frozen. It seems to keep forever although the recipe says 3 months.
3 (5-pound) roasting chickens
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, unpeeled and halved
4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
4 parsnips, unpeeled and cut in half, optional
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
20 sprigs fresh dill
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
Place the chickens, onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, parsley, thyme, dill, garlic, and seasonings in a 16 to 20-quart stockpot. Add 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours. Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids. Chill the stock overnight. The next day, remove the surface fat. Use immediately or pack in containers and freeze for up to 3 months.