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Italian Wedding Soup

24 September 2011

 

Nothing seemed more appropriate for the blog’s first autumn post – and for a decidedly chilly Scottish day – than a warm, hearty bowl of soup. This recipe  for a classic Italian Wedding Soup (originally featured by Ina Garten on the Food Network) combines some of the best flavours and ingredients of the Mediterranean. Fresh vegetables, pasta and bite-sized savoury garlic meatballs create a beautiful, tasty soup that is perfect for both a marital feast and in my case, a lazy afternoon lunch.

I had initial reservations over the wisdom of featuring meatballs – a food for which I’ve never had a particular affinity – in this soup. My mum’s meatballs have always been crafted from a mixture of ground beef, saltine cracker crumbs, onion and herbs, and have received glowing reviews for many years from family and friends alike. But truth be told, I’ve always secretly shoveled my meatballs onto my dad’s plate and carried on with the rest of my meal. A long-standing and admittedly unreasonable hatred of onions is probably the culprit in all this, and as a result I’ve shunned all meatballs since I was a child.

As I’ve spent more and more time in the kitchen over the last several years, however, I’ve learned that onions have their rightful place in the culinary scheme of things, and that – eureka! – you can just leave them out of your meatballs if you don’t like them. What an epiphany! When I stumbled upon this soup recipe – and it’s onion-less chicken meatballs – I was intrigued, to say the least.

I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome – these meatballs are to die for!! I purposely made those for the soup rather small, and as a result had a bit of extra meat left over to form into larger balls. I intended to heat these up for lunch or dinner on another day, but they only made it out of the oven for about 10 minutes before I had eaten the extras and had to force myself away from those for the soup. They really are that good, and will definitely be reappearing in my culinary repertoire in the near future!

A few notes on the ingredients:

1) This recipe calls for both ground chicken and chicken sausage. If neither are available for sale on your supermarket shelf, the store’s butcher should be able to produce them for a reasonable price. I couldn’t be bothered to stand in the queue at the butcher, however, and ended up substituting pork for both – ground and Cumberland sausage – and the result was fantastic.

2) Any dry (and not terribly fruity) white wine will suit for the soup broth; I used Verdicchio dei Castello di Jesi Classico and it was delicious.

3) The pasta tends to absorb the broth over time; to re-heat and serve any leftovers, add an extra cup or two of stock to reconstitute. Likewise, the spinach tends to lose its freshness and bright green colour after refrigeration; add extra leaves when re-heating.

Remarkably, the flavour of this soup actually gets better the day after cooking, and even better the day after that! Serve with a warm, crisp baguette or a thick crust Italian bread for a delicious early autumn lunch or dinner. Buon appetito!

 

ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP

Serves: 8

 

Meatballs

3/4 pound ground chicken

1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed

2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs

2 tsp minced fresh garlic (~2 cloves)

3 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

3 tbsp milk

1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

 

Soup

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup minced white or yellow onion

1 cup diced fresh carrots (~3 carrots), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

3/4 cup diced fresh celery (~2 stalks), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

10 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup small pasta, such as orzo

1/4 cup minced fresh dill

12 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves, washed + trimmed

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

 

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/175 degrees Celsius.

2.  For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, egg and a dash of salt and pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork (or work together with hands).

3.  Form meatball mixture into 1-inch sized balls and drop onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (recipe makes approximately 40 meatballs). Bake for 30 minutes until thoroughly cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

4.  For the soup, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5.  Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until pasta is tender.

6.  Add the fresh dill and the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach and cook for 1 minute, or until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle the soup into serving bowls or cups, and sprinkle each serving with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

 

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