Have you ever been to an Italian wedding, or should I say an Italian-American wedding? They are usually on the grand scale where the food seems to take center stage more than the bride and groom themselves. I have been to many in my lifetime, but I have to admit that soup was frequently an uninvited guest. So where did the idea of "Italian Wedding Soup" come from then?
Italian Wedding Soup has its origins in the United States, but is definitely influenced by such Italian soup varieties as Tuscan Soup or Minestrone. The Italian phrase "minestra maritata", translated to "married soup", has been misconstrued into making us believe that this is a typical item served at Italian wedding feasts. Actually the phrase refers to the perfect "marriage" of vegetables to meat or poultry, and can be applied to almost any soup, in general, if you think about it.
Typically, the Italian wedding soups we see served in restaurants, or marketed in cans by Progresso and Campbell’s, has miniature meatballs, diced vegetables and orzo in a thin to semi-thick broth. My own version which I call simply Meatball Soup uses cubed potatoes, instead of orzo, as my filler. Another version I have eaten is called "Escarole Soup" which is served at Easter time containing mainly escarole and shredded chicken in a seasoned broth, sometimes topped with melted mozzarella cheese. That is the wonder of this soup; tiny meatballs, sausage or chicken, with or without pasta or beans, with or without a leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale or escarole....no version is wrong. Depending on dietary needs or habits, it can be made into a strictly vegetarian soup, or just go for the gusto.
So, what recipe should you use? Using my Meatball Soup recipe, leave out the potatoes and add two cups of a leafy vegetable (spinach, kale or escarole) plus one cup of orzo will get to a very delicious version. The orzo goes into the soup pot, uncooked, and gets cooked during the simmering process. For my meatballs, I use a mixture of ground beef and ground turkey; seems to give the meatballs a smoother, more comforting mouth feel than when only beef is used. A hint if you intend on making a version with shredded chicken in it; melt some mozzarella over the soup before serving and it becomes absolutely decadent.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 medium onions, diced
6 cups beef broth
1 and ½ cups cold water
4 medium potatoes, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 (8 oz.) bag of baby carrots, cut into halves
2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 lb. ground turkey
1 tsp. each dried savory (or sage if you cannot find savory), garlic powder, onion powder
1 and ½ cups plain bread crumbs (dried, fine ground variety)
3 eggs, beaten
Heat oil, on high, in a 6-quartt stock pot; sauté onions till tender, about 3 minutes. Add beef broth and water; bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium; add in potatoes and carrots.
Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, combine beef, turkey, seasoning, bread crumbs and eggs. Mix together thoroughly; form meatballs of about a 1 inch diameter; makes about 60 meatballs. Note: for Italian Wedding Soup, the meatballs should be ¼-inch in diameter. Dainty meatballs for a dainty soup.
Place meatballs on baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes; just to brown the meat, not cook all the way through. Dab each meatball on a paper towel to remove excess grease before putting into the stock pot. Cook for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender.
When serving, sprinkle grated cheese on top of soup.
Makes 8-10 servings.
As a bonus, here is a recipe for Tuscan Soup, strictly vegetarian. While my recipe calls for the addition of plain water, adding vegetable broth instead can pump up the flavors even more.
1 small red and white onion, chopped
½ cup olive oil
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
¼ of a white cabbage, shredded
1 cup shredded Swiss chard
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup diced tomatoes
2 (15 ½ oz.) cans cannellini or great northern beans
¼ cup julienned basil leaves
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
In a large stockpot, heat oil on high heat; sauté onions till translucent. Reduce heat to medium, add all vegetables, cover and let cook together for 30 minutes; or until cabbage softens.
Reduce heat to low. Add beans, basil, salt, pepper and enough water to cover all ingredients in stockpot; cover and let cook for 1 ½ hours.
Makes 8 servings.
Enjoy making these soups, whether for a wedding reception, family reunion, or just to feel comfy all over, from the inside out.