Italian Wedding Soup Smackdown

A lot of my childhood included soup. This has to do with my father’s taste, and by that, I mean, how he spends his time in the kitchen and what he considers “good.” We often ate one-pot meals, cast with simple flavors. Soup was no exception. Bay leaves were recognizable to me at an early age. I still don’t understand their function. Discuss amongst yourselves.

The soup rotation we had in our household was confined to three recipes: chicken noodle, navy bean with a ham hock, and a beef, beer and barley concoction that is burned in my brain. I want to say here and now that I’ve made none of these soups in my own kitchen, their presence so ubiquitous in my childhood.

I have instead developed my own foundation of three, and these are mushroom barley, gazpacho and Italian wedding soup. The least made of these is the Italian wedding soup, and I am still plugging away at the formula by adapting recipes that I find at random.

After watching rainclouds filter in and out of my view and tuning into the sound of cold rain falling for five days straight, I could not resist another attempt. Drizzly, chilly springtime weather, experienced at over 6,000 feet in elevation, calls for soup.

I discovered a recipe that demanded two kinds of meat in the meatball. I took to hybridizing Italian sausage with wagyu beef. I decided to break down my own breadcrumbs this time. It required the sacrifice of a finely crafted small baguette, which made me a little sad. But it was for the greater good.

Wagyu beef + Italian sausage + egg + parsley + parmesan + bread crumbs + basil + salt + pepper = LOVE
When an Italian recipe calls for 4 cloves of garlic, ask yourself, “How big are those cloves?”, and then chop up eight of them.
Carrots, leeks, celery, and Swiss chard. “That chard is so yummy!”, said no one ever. But when used in soup it takes on the flavor of the stock and does a great job punching up the nutritional value.

Bone Broth Patience

And finally, I am going to preach to you the benefits of making your own stock. The recipe I adapted in this exercise originally calls for low-sodium chicken broth. This is not unusual in the least. But this boxed broth is flavorless, friends. Please. I implore you. Don’t do it.

I learned the benefits of bone broth years ago, and how to make it – or at least, how to throw some together with enough flavor that you want to eat it as a snack. Seriously. And any kind of stock-based soup could use the tender loving care of broth made from scratch.

This batch includes celery, carrots, kale, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, shallot and Celtic sea salt. And of course, a roasted chicken carcass that had been stashed in the freezer to await its destiny. Shiitakes add umami, but also health promoting compounds; celery is detoxifying; garlic is good for your heart; Celtic sea salt is lower in sodium than other salts and packed with minerals.

When you boil bones to make stock, the collagen from the bones adds to the mouthfeel of the stock. Bits of meat still clinging to the carcass lend further richness as the stock is allowed to meld together. And that’s another thing: I brought it to a boil, covered it at a simmer, and then put it in the fridge overnight. Three times.

The flavors need to get to know one another. They just met, you know? Like some humans, they need to see if shared heat will bring out the best in them. Then they need to cool off together and get a little privacy to deepen the bond. If you give it a chance to happen, it might work.

In this case, it works wonderfully.

Life changing soup.

Italian Wedding Soup (adapted from Cooking Classy)

Meatballs

8oz ground wagyu beef

8oz ground spicy pork sausage

½ cup fresh hearty white bread crumbs

¼ chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 ½ tsp minced fresh basil

½ cup finely shredded parmesan

1 large egg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soup

1 TBSP olive oil

1 ¼ cup ¼-inch diced carrots

1 ¼ cup diced leek (white part of leek)

¾ cup ¼-inch diced celery

4 cloves of garlic (don’t be shy), minced (1 ½ TBSP)

20 oz homemade bone broth

1 cup dry acini de pepe or orzo pasta

8oz swiss chard, chopped

Shredded parmesan, for serving

Meatball Execution

  1. Add beef and pork to a large mixing bowl, Add in bread crumbs, parsley, basil, parmesan, egg, 1tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper
  2. Gently toss and break up the mixture with hands to evenly coat and distribute. Shape mixture into small meatballs, about ¾ inch to 1 inch and transfer to large plate
  3. Heat 1 TBSP olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add half the meatballs and cook until browned, turning occasionally (to brown on 2 or 3 sides), about 4 minutes total
  4. Transfer meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels while leaving oil in skillet. Repeat process with remaining meatballs (note that your balls will not be cooked through when you are finished browning; they will cook through in the soup).

Soup Instructions

  1. While the meatballs are browning, heat 1 TBSP olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onions and celery and sauté until veggies have softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute longer.
  2. Pour in the homemade stock, and bring mixture to a boil. Add pasta and meatballs, reduce heat to light boil (medium to medium-low)
  3. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until pasta is tender and meatballs have cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add in the Swiss chard during the last 3 minutes of cooking.
  4. Serve warm and sprinkle each serving with parmesan cheese. 

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