Jan asked for some comforting, warm Italian Wedding Soup. After a brief warm spell, winter just came back to San Jose with a vengeance and there is snow on the brown hills. San Jose is in the south of the Bay Area with hills on both sides, there is a reason they call it Silicon Valley. Locals orient themselves by the color of the hills. The green hills, the coastal range, are always green and west. The brown hills, the Diablo Range, are higher, dryer and east. If there is any snow near San Jose it will be at the top of Mount Diablo.
I did not like any of the recipes on-line; they were either too simple or too complex. Although I generally avoid recipes that are “add can of A” to “can of B,” I am not a food-Nazi. I will use some shortcuts, especially if it is a weekday meal. I looked up what defines Italian Wedding Soup on Wikipedia. The basic ingredients are green vegetables, meat (usually meatballs), chicken broth, and usually some kind of small pasta. I decided to be creative.
Recently I tried making an Italian white bean and escrole soup. Escrole is an Italian endive, but it not as bitter as the other varieties. It was so good that I knew I wanted to include this green. It is not, however, very easy to find in south San Jose, not even Whole Paycheck carries it. I finally found it at the new organic market, Sprouts, on Branham Lane (the old OSH building).
For my meat balls I decided to start with a mild Italian sausage, instead of just plain beef. Add a little onion, garlic, bread crumbs (to make it less dense), flat parsley and it would make a nice meatball. If you simply throw a raw meatball into hot soup it will often just fall apart, leaving you with little bits of meat floating in your soup. The usual solution to this problem is to fry them a bit to set the meat. I was making my Guinness Beer Bread to go with the soup, so I put them on a small baking sheet and popped them into the oven to bake for 20 minutes. They came out crispy, browned and ready to toss into the soup at the last minute.
I was looking for cavatelli or acini di pepe as the pasta, which are two pastas commonly used traditionally. Both pastas are not easy to find in San Jose. None of the upscale brands, in the stores I went to, included either of these in their selections. Safeway had a store brand of acini di pepe, but as I was about to buy this, I noticed a package of Bertolli Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini. I have never tried anything like this, so on the spur of the moment, decided that I might give it a whirl.
With a minimum of preparation this soup came together to make a fantastic weekday meal. It is so good that Jan wants me to make it again on Monday when her brother is visiting.
Note: As I was making the beer bread, I got impatient with the orange sugar. This was the orange infused sugar that was left over from making candied orange peel. The moisture from the oranges left the sugar in clumps. In the past, I have carefully ground up the clumps and run the sugar through the sifter with the bread flour. Today I was in a hurry. I did not want to struggle with the sugar clogging up my sifter, so I just threw the sugar into the flour and gave it a stir. I thought that the moisture from the beer would dissolve the sugar. While the sugar in the interior of the loaf did dissolve, the larger chunks on the surface of the crust did not. This left me with discrete pockets of crunchy sugar scattered over the crust. It was fantastic! Next time I will do this on purpose.
Karl’s Italian Wedding Soup
½ lb. Mild Italian sausage
3 Tbs. onion, grated
2 Tbs. flat-leafed parsley, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/8 tsp. pepper
3 Tbs. panko
2 Tbs. olive oil
½ cup onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. marjoram
½ tsp. pepper
3 cans of low sodium chicken broth
4 oz. Bertolli Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini
1 lb. escarole
½ cup flat-leafed parsley, coarsely chopped
1. Separate the pork sausage in to small pieces in a medium bowl.
2. Add the onion, parsley, garlic, pepper, and egg to the bowl and thoroughly mix into the meat. (Note: Many people might also add some parmesan cheese at the point, but Jan does not like to mix meat and milk. If you wish you could add 2 Tbs. at this point.)
3. Mix in the panko and let the meat rest for 5 minutes, so that the bread soaks up the moisture and thickens the mixture.
4. Use a one tablespoon scoop to measure the meat mixture and roll them into balls. Lay the balls out on a small Pam-ed baking sheet so that they are not touching each other.
5. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool when done.
6. Add the olive oil to a large soup pot and sauté the onions and celery until the onions are translucent.
7. Add the garlic and sauté one minute more.
8. Add the herbs, pepper and chicken stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes.
9. Add the Bertolli Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes.
10. Add the escarole and meatballs to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes.
11. Stir in the parsley and serve.