My favorite soup both as a child and as an adult is Italian wedding soup. Yes, I had my share of chicken noodle and tomato soup; but they didn’t hold a candle to a pot of my mom’s homemade chicken stock filled with delectable Italian meatballs. My mom would vary the remaining additions. After straining the chicken stock into a clear broth, she’d add the meatballs back in and add either some cooked rice or a small pasta.
I was a fussy eater when I was a child, so she didn’t dare add escarole or spinach until much later. It is the escarole along with the meatballs and a small pasta such as acini de pepe that turns the chicken stock into what is known as “Italian wedding soup.” Evidently, the term “wedding” refers to the marriage of the meat and vegetables, flavor-wise. All I know is that there is hardly an Italian wedding that doesn’t serve this soup as an appetizer.
Back to the Campbell’s soup for a moment…my mom did occasionally heat some up for us but, for whatever reason, preferred Lipton’s offering of a boxed dehydrated version of chicken noodle soup with its thinner noodles and bits of chicken and parsley. My two sisters and I had a memorable lunch of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup one day.
My 3-year-old baby sister Tina said, “Mama, there are bugs in my soup!”
My mother calmly answered, “No, honey, that’s just parsley floating in the soup.”
Tina answered, “But the parsley has legggggsssssss!!!!!
Turns out we had some nasty little bugs that had hatched in a bag of flour and made their way to other items in our pantry. To this day, I have nary an open box in my pantry. If it’s not a canned item, it’s in a sealed container such as Tupperware. But I digress…
This Italian wedding soup is still my favorite of favorite soups—the best of the best! Now, you can cut corners and use purchased chicken broth. As long as you make the homemade meatballs, you’ll be able to get away with a decent version of the soup. But, if you want to have the best Italian wedding soup you’ve ever tasted, you will go the extra mile and make a big pot of homemade chicken stock. It really isn’t difficult at all. It’s just a matter of finding a day when you’ll be home to make and monitor it on the cooktop as it simmers.
It doesn’t take much to get the soup going. Throw the carcass in a pot along with some chopped onion, celery and carrots. Cover with water and you’re good to go. If you have Italian bread crumbs made up and sitting in a bowl in your fridge, all you need is a pound of hamburger, one egg, and 10 minutes and you’ll have the meatballs made in a snap. Most of the time involved in making the soup is inactive with part of the inactive time requiring the stock to be chilled overnight. The next day, any fat comes to the top as a solid mass and is easy to remove. You will end up with the most flavorful clear broth you’ve ever had in your life.
From there, it’s just a matter of bringing the broth back to a boil and adding the escarole which cooks in about five minutes. Of course, you need to boil a little pasta on the side as well. Like Meg Ryan’s “Sally,” I always keep the pasta on the side. If you add it to the hot pot of soup, it will inevitably get too soft and mushy. Nothing worse than pasta that isn’t al dente!
Ladle a big bowl of this soup and sprinkle it with freshly grated Romano cheese. You’ll find it’s way better than “Mmm, mmm good!”
One year ago: Mama Musto’s Meatballs
The Best-Ever Italian Wedding Soup
- One or two chicken carcasses – two are better if you’ve got a large enough pot)
- Enough water to just about cover the carcasses (quantity depends on the size of your pot)
- 1 or 2 large onions, chopped
- 5 or 6 ribs of celery, chopped
- 4 or 5 carrots, chopped
- 8 to 10 whole peppercorns
- Salt to taste (do not add salt until after the stock has reduced to your liking; otherwise you could easily oversalt the pot)
- 1 lb. of homemade Italian meatballs, shaped into small, golf-sized balls
- Small head of escarole, with ends trimmed and sliced lengthwise in thin strips
- Small-shaped pasta, such as acini de pepe or tubettini, cooked separately
- Freshly grated Romano cheese, for serving
For all you seasoned cooks, you probably don’t need any instructions on how to make a chicken (or turkey) stock—but, for any beginning cooks, this will set you on the right track. As I tell my kids, this is more of a technique than an actual recipe because you need to know how to reduce the liquid to concentrate the flavors. The amount of water you start off with really depends on how big a pan you have. Then you just keep simmering the liquid until you get a nice flavorful stock.
So—to start your soup, cut or break your chicken carcass into small enough pieces to fit into a very large stockpot. I would use an 8-quart stockpot at minimum. Put in enough water to just about cover the carcass and bring it to a boil. Add the onion, celery, carrots and peppercorns. Once the water boils, lower the heat to keep it at a medium boil or lively simmer.
While the soup is simmering, make the meatballs. Form the meatballs into balls the size of a golf ball or walnut. As you form each one, throw it into the simmering soup. As the meatballs cook, you will see them rise to the top of the soup and remain floating there.
As the liquid reduces, more of the chicken bones will be exposed—don’t worry about it. While the soup is boiling, it will create a somewhat gray or brown froth at the sides of the pot. Skim this to remove it from the soup. This will keep your broth clear—however, if your chicken was stuffed, it won’t create as clear a broth as an unstuffed one. It will be just as tasty, though.
When the stock has reduced to a flavorful broth and you’ve added salt to taste, strain the broth into a very large bowl. Remove the meatballs from the strainer and temporarily store them in a bowl. Discard the bones and cooked vegetables. I always discard the vegetables because they get too oily; they have served their purpose by flavoring the broth. Return the meatballs to the broth. When the broth is cool enough, refrigerate it overnight. You will need to do this so that the fat will rise to the surface, and you can easily remove it the next day.
Once the fat has solidified on the surface of the broth, remove and discard it. You can now bring the broth back to a boil and add the escarole at this time which will wilt and become tender in about five minutes.
If you’re a beginning cook, you may be wondering how long you should simmer the liquid in order to make a flavorful broth. I always simmer mine for at least a minimum of two hours. The length of time will vary depending on how much water you start off with, the rate at which the liquid evaporates (will depend on how lively you have it simmering), and how strong you want the flavor of your broth to be. Trust me—you can’t mess this up. If the broth isn’t as flavorful as you’d like it, keep simmering! If it ends up tasting too strong, add more water!
For another look-see with photos of the process, take a look at my similar recipe for turkey soup.
Source: A frantastic original (although ingredients and technique are quite common!)