Italian Wedding Soup

Meatballs, greens, broth...what's not to love? 

I had my first bowl of Italian Wedding Soup, not surprisingly I guess, at a wedding several years ago. I remember somewhere being told that this soup got it's name by being traditional at weddings to give newlyweds sustenance for their newly wedded bliss (wink, wink) but that story seems to be more urban legend than actual food fact. No matter. Whatever the origin, meatballs and greens in a savory broth just makes for a good meal. And now that winter is here (just 2 weeks until Christmas!) I'm craving comforting, warming and nutritious meals to break up the all party food and beverages I'm consuming.

A little internet research tells me that Italian Wedding Soup comes from the Italian Ministra Maritata, or Married Soup. Probably because the ingredients are such a perfect marriage of flavors, rich stock and bitter greens. There are about a million variations to the recipe. For the broth, some go straight up chicken stock, some do beef, veal, or any combination. What's important is that you have a rich and savory broth. I like to use whatever I've got homemade. If I go the store-bought route, I do like to mix a little beef broth with chicken stock just to make the flavor a little richer. Other variations I've seen include recipes that use pasta or beans and any number of greens, spinach, dandelion, escarole, you name it, are all fair game. As to the meatballs, I've seen a lot of people use beef, but I like the milder flavor of pork or veal. Today I've made meatballs from a mixture of the two.

I don't have a traditional family recipe to fall back on, this recipe is just how I like to make Italian Wedding Soup. It's delicious, pretty easy to make, and so satisfying. A perfect winter meal.

Italian Wedding Soup (Minestra Maritata) Recipe

Meatball Ingredients
1/4 cup panko or fresh breadcrumbs
3 tblsps milk
1 egg
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground veal
salt and pepper to taste

Soup Ingredients
Olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
8 cups homemade stock or broth
1 cup small pasta (stars, dilating, etc)
2 cups chopped lacinato kale (or any bitter greens)
chopped fresh parsley and fresh grated parmesan cheese for garnish

I start by making the meatballs. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Combine all of the ingredients except the meat to make one uniform mixture, then combine that with the ground pork and veal. I find that keeps me from over mixing my meatballs (nobody wants a tough meatball). I then use a small disher to measure out the meatballs. I like them a little smaller than ping pong balls, but you can go as big or as large as you like. Place them on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, you just want them golden. IT doesn't matter if they bake all the way through, they'l be added to the hot soup and cook some more, but this keeps them from breaking apart when you add them to the boiling broth later.

While the meatballs are baking, start the soup. Saute the onions, carrots and celery in the olive oil until they start to soften. Add your stock/broth and bring the mixture to the boil. Let it simmer until the meatballs are done baking then add your meatballs and pasta to the simmering soup.

Cook for 6-8 minutes, until the pasta is tender, then add your greens and let it simmer just for another minute or two.

Time to serve! Ladle into soup bowls, garnish with fresh parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Served with bread or a salad (or both) this makes a satisfying lunch or dinner on its own. If you are entertaining, it's also a lovely first course.

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