I had originally set out to call this recipe “Italian Wedding Soup”, but I decided not to. I know that most of us refer to this soup as such but really, what is ltalian Wedding Soup? First of all, how many of you can say that you’ve had this soup at an Italian wedding? I for sure have never eaten this at any wedding. Back in the old days we were served a bowl of stracciatella with some acini di pepe pasta following the antipasto plate, but that has long ago been omitted from most Italian wedding menus.
So let’s talk about the origins of this soup. There is in fact such a thing in Italy called “minestra maritata” which literally translated means “married soup”. The “married” part refers to the combination of greens (escarole, spinach, swiss chard or other) and meat with the addition of some type of pasta. Somewhere along the way, “minestra maritata” was translated using the word “wedding” in order to refer to the marrying of the greens and meat. Therefore, it had nothing to do with weddings in the literal sense. Yet another North American adaptation of an Italian recipe. Fascinating, isn’t it? I mentioned it in my last post as well, but it’s interesting to see how recipes have evolved from the old country!
Most recipes I’ve seen contain spinach and acini di pepe. I prefer escarole (as my mother always used) as I like the way it holds it’s shape in the soup. But you can substitute spinach if you prefer. I’m also partial to using tubettini in hearty vegetable soups but again, any other small shaped pasta will do.
I’ll tell you the truth, this is not my mother’s original recipe. She made a soup with escarole and ground meat and called it escarole soup. It was very good but I decided to modify the recipe by turning the ground meat into meatballs. Because who doesn’t like little meatballs in their soup? But, I’m not going to call it Italian Wedding Soup even though it is recognized as such. You can call it that if you want to. I won’t mind, just as long as you try it!
Escarole and Meatball Soup (aka Italian Wedding Soup)
- 500 grams combined ground beef veal and pork
- 1 egg
- 1 small garlic clove minced
- 2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp salt
- freshly ground pepper
- For the soup:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion diced
- 2 carrots diced (1 1/2 cups)
- 2 celery stalks diced (1 1/2 cups)
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 5 cups escarole chopped (about 1/2 large head of escarole)
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup tubettini pasta
- salt as needed
- parmesan cheese for serving
- Prepare the meatballs: In a large bowl add all the meatball ingredients and mix well. Shape the meat mixture into meatballs approximately 1 inch wide. Set aside while you prepare the soup.
- For the soup: Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven, add onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomato paste and mix well with the vegetables. Add the escarole and stir until wilted. Pour in the chicken stock and bay leaves and bring to a boil.
- When the soup comes to a boil, add the prepared meatballs. Lower to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the pasta. Cook until the pasta is ready, according to the package instructions. Add salt and pepper as desired. Remove the bay leaves before serving. Serve hot with parmesan cheese at the table.