I just love the name of this soup. It evokes a big Italian weddings set in an Italian country side, perhaps on an ancient farmstead, or on a hill overlooking some centuries- old Etruscan village.
A few years ago the girls and I went to the Jersey Shore with my brother and nephew. Good ‘Ol Wildwood! We went out for dinner one evening and were informed that the soup of the day was Italian Wedding Soup. Italian Wedding Soup? Both my brother and I were baffled. Being of Italian origin (my brother is actually Italian, he would have me note!), we’d never had nor even heard of this soup. We had gone to many Italian weddings and served many a soup, but never this one. We’d even been to Italy on numerous occasions and never came across Italian Wedding Soup. I was intrigued! What was this soup? Was it really Italian?
I discovered that it is one of the most classical dishes served in America – as in U.S.A. – and with us being Canadian, that could very well be a reason why we’d never heard of it. Digging further, I came across a soup in the region of Naples called “minestra maritata”, meaning “married soup”. As in green vegetables (minestra) marries well, or blends well (maritata) with meat. Apparently it is a very old dish. Some say it was brought over to Naples from Spain, while others claim it could date as far back to the Romans. It was a much heavier soup in its day, a mix of endive, escarole, kale or cabbage with lots of different meats. It wasn’t until pasta became more affordable that it was added to the soup. The recipe came to America via Italian immigrants from Naples, replacing the meat with meatballs. Somewhere along the way, the name was lost in translation and became known as Italian wedding soup. In Italy, the soup went out of fashion around the time the immigrants took their recipe with them to America.
There are many versions of Italian wedding soup. I came across one by Ina Garten in her “Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics” cookbook where she uses chicken meatballs.
In a large bowl I added and mixed together:
- 1 pound/450 gr. ground chicken
- 1/2 pound/250 gr. chicken sausage, casings removed
- 2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs (I used white toast bread)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Don’t be shy to use your hands to mix it all together. It really is the best way to ensure all the ingredients get mixed thoroughly. I used 2 coffee spoons to make the meatballs, one to scoop some of the mixture and the other to roll it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Set the meatballs aside. For the soup, you’ll need:
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 1 cup minced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 10 cups homemade chicken stock (I used 12 because after the pasta had cooked, much of the broth had been absorbed by it)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (I wasn’t sure about the wine… so I added a splash, tasted, liked it and added another splash)
- 1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars
- 12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed
Heat olive oil in a soup pot on medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook for 10 minutes.
Add chicken stock and wine. *If you don’t have homemade chicken stock, you can use store-bought or even the cubes/powder. I used 6 cups of homemade stock, 4 cups of store-bought stock and 2 cups of water with a cube.
Bring to a boil and add 1 cup of small soup pasta. My girls just love ball soup (pastina), or little stars. You could use whatever tickles your fancy, little o’s, little shells… Cook pasta according to package, usually 6 to 8 minutes for small soup pasta. Add meatballs and baby spinach and cook for 1 minute more. Taste for salt. Serve and enjoy!