Forgive me for being so forward, but you can’t have a wedding until somebody has popped the question! Oh, we aren’t talking about that kind of wedding? You mean this is a blog about soup? Maybe I should start over.
This blog is dedicated to the soup that makes you think of wedding bells and saying your vows – Italian wedding soup. However, a thorough and exhaustive search of the Internet that lasted at least thirty seconds revealed that this soup’s connection to actual weddings may be a bit erroneous. The name appears to refer more to the marriage of actual ingredients within the soup, rather than the meal served after Jim and Ellen got hitched down at Bubba’s Chapel of Bliss in Vegas. Who knows, maybe Jim and Ellen had a hearty bowl of this delicious soup after tying the knot, but my soup-filled gut tells me this is most likely not the case. Regardless, the ingredients in this soup are a match made in heaven and they work together so harmoniously that the odds of a future divorce look to be slim. Perhaps the frequent and successful preparation of this dish could even lead to a wedding down the road, or strengthen the marriage you may already have. If you’re looking to impress that special someone in your life and perhaps dreaming of hearing the sound of wedding bells, this Italian wedding soup might not be a bad starting point. Now we just need the proper combination of ingredients to make this soup sing to the heavens – let’s go!
Don’t you even think about it! I know it might only be $1.50 for a can, but we are absolutely not going the canned route today. Would you want to marry somebody who thought a special dinner came out of a can? Probably not. As for our actual homemade soup, there are many different recipes, but nearly all of them include the combination of meatballs, vegetables, pasta, and dark greens swimming in a chicken broth. The soup-making process is basically twofold. You’ll make the meatballs, then you’ll make the soup. Then at the end, you perform the wedding ceremony and marry the two, just like a regular meatball minister. Here’s my take on what you’ll need to make the tastiest Italian wedding soup in all the land.
For the meatballs:
1 pound of ground chicken
1 pound of ground pork
3/4 – 1 cup of breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of dried sage
1-2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
1 tablespoon of water
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional, if you want a little extra spice)
Starting with the meat, I choose to use a combination of ground chicken and ground pork. The ground chicken is very lean and the ground pork adds a nice flavor without being too fatty. If you used a fattier meat like beef, you may end up with lots of grease floating on the top of your finished soup. We aren’t trying to eat soup that looks like it has suffered from an environmental disaster like an oil spill, so I would stick with the leaner meats. Add all of the ingredients mentioned earlier one by one. After you have added all of the seasonings and ingredients, your mixture should look something like this…
Doesn’t that look great already? The combination of spices, herbs, and cheese will blend beautifully together. Now let’s get messy. It’s all right, love isn’t always pretty. There’s no better way to mix this all up than to just get in there with my favorite kitchen utensils – my hands! Let the mixture squish all through your fingers. Get all of the ingredients incorporated. You should have a nicely mixed conglomeration of meat, herbs, cheese, and spices when you are finished.
Now it’s time to make the meatballs! If you start out with wet hands, the rolling process will be much easier. Take a hunk of this mixture and begin rolling it in between your hands. You want these meatballs to be no larger than one inch in diameter. With the amount of mixture you have at your disposal, you should be able to churn out 35-40 of these meatballs.
Now that’s a good looking plate of meatballs! This part of the recipe could easily be done in advance, although I wouldn’t do it much earlier than the morning of your soup-making endeavor. I personally prefer throwing these meatballs in a pan with a little olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes to brown them on the outside. This won’t completely cook the meatball all the way through, but it will develop a nice layer of flavor on the outside. If you don’t want to do this step, the meatballs could fully cook in the broth of the soup. You’ll just be missing a chance to develop a bit of extra flavor. Remember, we are trying to impress. Attention to detail matters!
After a few minutes on each side, you’ll end up with this result…
Once they get a nice color on the outside, pull them out of the pan. Don’t go popping one of these meatballs in your mouth just yet as they won’t be cooked in the middle. Raw poultry and humans don’t mix too well. After you have browned your meatballs, part one of your soup preparation is complete. Now let’s talk about the soup part of…our soup.
For the soup:
1 medium onion, diced
4 peeled carrots, diced
5 stalks of celery, diced
2-3 grated cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of stelline pasta (or orzo will work fine)
2 quarts (8 cups) of chicken stock
2 cups of water
6-8 ounces of baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of olive oil
It’s pretty tough to top the flavor combination of onions, carrots, and celery. It’s a combination often referred to as “The Trinity” by chefs around the globe and it’s a wonderful starting point for many different soups.
Once your vegetables are chopped and ready to go, get out your big soup pot and heat up your olive oil over a medium heat. Once it’s hot and ready to go, throw in your vegetables. Cook them until the carrots are tender. The goal here isn’t to brown – it’s more of a chance to let everybody get to know one another before the wedding takes place. As everybody is mingling in the pan, they’ll get more comfortable and start to soften. They’ll lose their inhibitions and before you know it, all the vegetables will be acquainted and ready to get on with the ceremony.
We are getting close to the end now. Add a few cloves of grated or finely minced garlic and let that cook for a quick minute. If you let it cook much longer, the garlic could burn, resulting in a bitter taste. Bitter garlic and love don’t mix. Now it’s time to add some liquid to actually make this a soup. Pour in your two quarts of chicken stock and two cups of water. Stir everything together and raise the heat until the soup comes to a simmer. Now it’s time to add our pasta. For this soup, you want a small pasta. Something like orzo or acini di pepe will work wonderfully. At the store, I came across a box of stelline, which are essentially little pieces of pasta shaped like stars. Since I was already feeling like a soup star, or a souperstar, I figured I might as well let that be reflected in my dish.
That’s what stelline looks like, if you’ve never seen it. Since you’re making this dish for your star, it only seems appropriate. Plus, there’s something about eating star-shaped pasta that makes you feel like a kid again. When you add the pasta, give everything a big stir and cover the pot, letting the soup simmer for about 8-9 minutes. This will give the pasta time to cook and release its starch, which will help to thicken your soup. Taste your soup at this point to see how much salt you need. Having the right amount of salt can make or break a soup. Without enough, your soup could end up tasting like a puddle of dirty water, so make sure you use enough. Taste early and often! Now add in your baby spinach and stir. The spinach will wilt down a tremendous amount, so even though it may seem like a lot, it will reduce. Trust me. After a minute or two when the spinach has wilted, the time has come. Everybody is dressed for the occasion. Everybody has had time to think things over…and over. There’s no turning back. Are you ready to perform the wedding? Grab your meatballs. It’s time.
The next step is very important. After you get married, you probably want to be left alone for a little while. We call this our honeymoon. It’s no different for your soup! Let them enjoy the honeymoon, Put a lid on the pot and leave it on a nice, low heat. Let the ingredients have a relaxing honeymoon, free of interruptions, so all of the flavors can combine. This is also the time when the meatballs will finish cooking completely. I recommend letting it simmer for at least thirty minutes, but an hour would be preferred. The longer you let your soup honeymoon, the more you will be rewarded in terms of flavor development.
When you can wait no longer, grab your bowl and get ready to ladle up the soup. I’d knock on the lid first just to be courteous – you are interrupting a honeymoon after all. Dip up a big bowl and get ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. I recommend serving it up with a piece of toasted bread for dunking – hopefully this wouldn’t be considered being promiscuous for our newly wed creation. I garnish the bowl of goodness with a bit of fresh parsley and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
It’s a meal fit for a king. You get meat, vegetables, starch, dairy, all combined into one bowl. It may be a labor of love, but it’s one that will reward your taste buds with every single bite. So if you’re thinking of popping the question, making this soup could certainly be the start to getting the answer you desire. If you’re not thinking of popping the question, at least when you’re finished you can officially call yourself a meatball minister. That alone is reason enough for me.
Cook with love,
The Taste Bud