Friday, February 13, 2015

Italian Wedding Soup with Meatballs & Spinach

There are many variations of Italian Wedding Soup but the main elements are meatballs, greens, broth and pasta. While the name indicates that the soup may be served at an Italian wedding, it's actually a mistranslation of minestra mariata, which refers to the fact that the flavours of green vegetables and meat go together, or 'marry', well. And here I thought there must be some deep symbolism in the name. But no, sometimes a meatball is just a meatball. My friend Richard introduced me to this recipe from his favourite maven of the kitchen, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. So I thank Richard for making me this memorable soup for the first time one lovely afternoon long ago, and Ina, for being his culinary muse.

Italian Wedding Soup 
Serves 6-8

For the meatballs:
3/4 lb ground chicken
1/2 lb chicken sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, fresh grated
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
3 tbsp whole milk
1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp pepper

For the soup:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, minced
1 cup carrots, diced and cut into 1/4" pieces
3/4 cup celery, diced and cut into 1/4" pieces
10 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup orzo pasta
1/4 cup fresh dill, minced
12 oz baby spinach, washed and trimmed

Preheat the oven to 350°F. For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. Using your hands, form 1-inch round meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. You should have about 40 meatballs, and they don't have to be perfectly round. Bake for 30 minutes until they are cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat and in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onions, carrots and celery and sauté until softened, 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Ad the pasta to the simmering broth and cook 6-8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated parmesan, if you wish.