When it comes to soups, I can easily say I have a hands-down favorite: Italian wedding soup. My experience of it is neither particularly Italian, nor is it matrimonial, rather it was one of the first real meals my mother fed me when I was a baby. The legend is that I'd slurp it loudly, humming, and the broth would dribble down my neck, soaking the neck of my shirt.
The recipe was handed down to my mother, and adapted at each stop, from a man named Fran, whose daughter was my first babyhood friend. I don't really remember Fran — he passed away when we were still tiny — but he lives within me every time I make this soup. Now I see fit to serve it to anyone I love — from my own little person (who also slurps, dribbles, and hums) to a cozy winter dinner party, where guests often let go of their manners too.
We always called it Italian escarole soup because Fran used escarole — a broad-leafed, less bitter form of endive — as the green element, although you can use kale, spinach, chard, collards, even broccoli greens. It's also known as zuppa di scarola or minestra marinata (Italian wedding soup) because of the way the ingredients combine, like a happy love. It is simple to prepare, but has enough flourishes — herby meatballs and a last-minute addition of cheesy egg ribbons — to make it special enough for guests.
Italian wedding soup has long been one of my favorite soups, but it's one I've never made myself, as I always assumed it was a chore to make all those meatballs before making the soup itself. This recipe proved I've been wrong for years. The soup actually comes together quite easily — I made it on a weeknight for a casual dinner party without fuss.
Stirring in the egg mixture in one direction helps to prevent any serious curdling, which was a concern of previous commenters. Also, while the original recipe doesn't call for adding any pasta to the pot, I've always felt that it's not Italian wedding soup without it. Whichever route you choose, though, you won't be disappointed.
- Sheela, January 2018
Italian Wedding Soup
12 ounces ground meat (chicken, turkey, pork, beef, veal, or a combination)
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs or panko
3 large eggs, divided
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bunch greens (such as escarole), trimmed and torn into bite-sized pieces (about 6 lightly packed cups)
3/4 cup cooked small pasta, such as orzo or acini di pepe (optional)
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Lemon wedges (optional)
Place the ground meat, breadcrumbs, 1 of the eggs, 1/4 cup of the Pecorino, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, oregano, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Mix thoroughly but be careful not to overwork the meat. Form the mixture into 3/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch balls. You should have 20 to 30 meatballs, depending on how large you form them.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the meatballs in batches so as not to crowd the pan and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes. (If they are still a bit pink in the middle, don't worry; they will continue to cook in the broth.) Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate as each batch is ready.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a 4- to 6-quart soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onions are tender and the garlic is soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the greens, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the meatballs and cook 5 minutes more. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 2 eggs, remaining 1/4 cup Pecorino, and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan in a small bowl and beat with a fork to blend.
Slowly pour the egg mixture into the simmering soup, stirring slowly in one direction. Cover and simmer just until egg bits are set, about 30 seconds. Stir in the cooked pasta, if using. Taste and season with salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and a squirt of lemon juice as desired. Serve immediately.
Storage: Leftovers will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat, simmer gently over low heat.