Italian Wedding Soup
A quest, with an ending you can eat.
I was doing some shopping before the DC blizzard struck and happened upon a huge head of fresh escarole. In that instant I knew what would kill a few hours in the snowbound kitchen, result in a satisfying meal and even more satisfying leftovers. Wedding soup!
When I was 16 years old I started working at my first “real job,” a catering hall in Hubbard Ohio called, “The House of Valley.” It was run by a charming, charismatic Italian businessman named John Valley who had a cook named “Minnie.” She was elderly, large, and mostly deaf but she could cook like nobody’s business. One of her signature dishes was Italian Wedding Soup which was routinely served at, um, a lot of Italian weddings hosted at the House of Valley.
The name of this tasty dish is actually a victim of bad translation. It’s not really wedding soup, it’s “married soup” with the meat and vegetables serving as the bride and groom. There are many varieties out there, some contain pasta, some use chicken as opposed to the meatballs. Although many people I know have heard of and eaten the soup, it’s roots are Neapolitan and it’s kind of rare to find it on a menu outside Northeastern Ohio.
This treat from my youth sloshed about inside my head and for years I wondered how to make it. I scoured and compared recipes on the Interweb and experimented long into the night. Now, I’m ready to reveal the facts and secrets as I know them. This recipe is kitchen tested, labor-intensive, and well researched. Please enjoy.
There are a number of variations on this dish that I’ve seen over the years but if the soup does not contain some form of meatballs, you’re already off to a bad start. There are also all kinds of meatball recipes out there — I’m still searching for the world’s best meatballs, but these aren’t so bad.
1/2 lb. Veal
1/2 lb. Ground beef
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup Romano cheese — grated
salt and pepper
4–6 cups of chicken stock
whole head of escarole torn into pieces
Combine the meat, egg, breadcrumbs, parsley, cheese, and spices in a big bowl and then roll into “marble-sized” meatballs. How big you make the marbles is up to you. In many of the good renditions the balls are pretty small, you can get two or three in a spoon. I make mine bigger so only one will fit in a spoon. Put the meatballs onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, drain the fat.
If you find yourself drawn to making soups, stews, and risottos you’re going to need some stock. There’s lots of stock recipes out there but they all involve boiling some kind of meat for hours and saving the juice. The quick way is buying it in the grocery store.
Boil the chicken stock as you tear the escarole apart and drop it into the cauldron. Don’t use the big stems or leaves, you’re looking for the small, tender parts. Boil the escarole for five minutes, then dump in the meatballs. Simmer, then feel free about grating in some more hard cheese and serve. Buon Appetito!