Daughter Miriam asked for a vegetable forward soup fir this Sunday’s dinner. I decided on an Italian Wedding Soup. What defines an Italian Wedding Soup—according to Wikipedia—are green vegetables, meat (usually meatballs), chicken broth, and usually some kind of small pasta. I can see that for a large wedding feast you would want to keep it simple, but this was for a family dinner—I decided to bump up the vegetables.
I have made this soup before, but I had some new restrictions. Miriam has not been able to handle garlic and onions. These common ingredients of Italian cuisine would have to go.
Last time I use and escrole—Italian endive—as my green vegetable. However, I was not able to find this in San Jose. I did find a vegetable that was new to me, rapini—apparently a common Italian green of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family.
For my meat balls I started with a mild Italian sausage. The last time I made these meat balls I used too little bread crumbs and they turned out dry and tough. Adjusting the recipe—and eliminating the garlic and onions I used last time—and adding a very non-Italian tweak of Thai fish sauce, I made half-tablespoon sized meatballs. I find this size perfect for soups when you do not want to slop around trying to cut up meatballs that are too large to eat in one bite.
A problem with simply throwing a raw meatball into hot soup is that it sometimes just falls 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. With so many small meatballs I chose to put them on a small baking sheet and broil them 10 minutes. They came out crispy, browned and ready to toss into the soup at the last minute.
For the pasta, I decided to use Trader Joes spinach tortellini. To please Miriam, I also added even more vegetables—carrot, celery, red bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. My final tweak was to boost the flavor of the chicken broth with a couple of tablespoons of Better than Bouillon.
After Dinner Note: You know when a dish is a success when your diners go back for seconds. I had made a very large pot of soup and there was very little left by the end of dinner.
Karl’s Italian Wedding Soup without Garlic and Onions
½ lb. chicken bones and scraps (see note Step 1)
1 can (14.5 oz.) low sodium chicken broth
2 Tbs. sherry
1 tsp. Thai fish sauce
¼ tsp. pepper
Add milk to make half a cup
½ cup bread crumbs
1 Tbs. flat leafed parsley, minced
½ lb. Mild Italian sausage
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, grated
1 lb. rapini, coarsely chopped, stems and leaves kept seperately
2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. basil
1 tsp. marjoram
½ tsp. pepper
6 oz. Trader Joes spinach tortellini
1 small hot house tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt to taste
½ cup flat-leafed parsley, coarsely chopped
1. Prepare your broth and set it aside.
Note: While you may just use a few cans of chicken broth—when I can—I like to boost the flavor of commercial broth by adding chicken bone scraps—this time I used 20 wing tips, left over from a wing barbecue. Broiling the tips for twenty minutes, I chopped them up—to increase the surface area exposed to the soup—and I simmered them in 32 oz. of chicken bone broth. I added a cup of water, the Better than Bouillon and, bay leaves, so that after an hour of simmering, I had about the original amount of fluid (32 oz.). If you are making a big soup, you may add a can or two more of chicken broth.
2. Put the egg in a measuring cup and add the sherry, fish sauce and pepper.
3. Add enough milk to make half a cup and scramble the ingredients well.
Note: Depending on the size of your egg, this may be between 1-2 tablespoons of milk.
4. Mix in the bread crumbs—the bread soaks up the moisture and thickens the mixture—and let it rest for five minutes.
Tip: This is called a panade.
5. Separate the pork sausage into small pieces in a medium bowl and add the panade.
6. Mix the meat well and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Tip: Squeezing the meat through your fingers is the most efficient way of getting a good mix.
Note: Normally, you would have to worry about overworking the meat while you are doing this—creating tough meat balls—but with sausage the proteins are already linked up—that is the nature of sausage. The reason for using so much bread crumbs in the panade is to tenderize the meat by spreading these links out.
7. Use a one half tablespoon scoop to measure the meat mixture and roll them into balls.
8. Lay the balls out on a small Pam-ed baking sheet so that they are not touching each other.
9. Broil 2 inched from the heating element for 10 minutes.
Tip: The meatballs should be well browned when they are done.
Note: While the bread crumbs will soak up much of the sausage grease—after you remove the meatball—you may add some hot water to the pan to scrape off the fond to your broth.
10. Set the meatballs aside to cool when done.
11. Chop, slice and/or grate all of your vegetables and set them aside.
Tip: Scrape the tomato seeds into a sieve set over a bowl and press the jelly into the bowl. Discard the seeds. Much of a tomatoes flavor is in the “jelly” surrounding the seeds.
Note: For the rapini, trim off a quarter inch of the dried stem. The rest—the leafy green, the leaf stem and the broccoli like flower head—are edible.
12. Add the olive oil to a large soup pot and sauté the celery, until translucent.
13. Add the carrot and the rapini stems, sauté for 2-3 more minutes.
Tip: I personally do not like the texture of cooked carrots. As a result I grate the carrots, so that they break down into the broth. If you prefer you may cut the carrots into large chunks.
14. Add the herbs, pepper and chicken stock to the pot and bring to a boil.
15. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
16. Add the meatballs, spinach tortellini, rapini greens, tomatoes, and bell peppers to the pot.
Note: Taste the broth and, if necessary, add salt to taste.
17. Simmer for 5 more minutes.
18. Garnish with the parsley and serve.