Sunday, July 29, 2012

Italian Wedding Soup - redux

I posted this to my food blog yesterday but I don't get as much traffic there yet.  Enjoy!

A little bit of everything on the spoon: mini meatball, tomato, carrot, orzo and spinach in a savory broth.

Don't ask me why, because I don't know the answer, but I have always been just the littlest bit nervous about Italian Wedding soup.  Maybe it is the fear of OPM or other people's meatballs.  I am super picky about my meatballs, and meatballs play an integral part of this soup.  Whatever the reason, I had never really been a fan.  My talented mother-in-law makes a soup with a beef-based broth and meatballs (and her meatballs are delicious) that is similar but not really Italian Wedding.

While planning for this past week of camp I knew I wanted to do food from Italy.  For the main recipe we made lemony white bean bruschetta.  It was a hit with most campers and gave an idea of the different tastes of Italian food other than pasta and tomato sauce.  As usual, for my oldest campers who chose to come 3 times a week I had to pick 2 additional recipes.  We made cauliflower and broccoli fritters, which I thought were more than a little blah.  And as you may have guessed by now, for the last day we made soup.

The recipe itself is rather simple, the meatballs being the most involved part about it.  Most of the recipes I found called for cooking the meatballs, and the orzo for that matter, within the broth.  Because I was doing this at camp during a 30-40 minute time frame I opted to cook the meatballs and orzo separately and add them into the hot broth as we dished it out.  I also used my own meatball recipe, mostly because I think they are delicious.  Why mess with a good thing? 

The campers loved the soup.  They were asking for seconds, then thirds and some to take home.  When that happens, my heart swells a bit.  I am so thrilled that these children are learning about how to prepare food that is healthy and delicious and at the same time, expanding their food boundaries.  I unfortunately forgot my camera this week so I have no pictures of the wonderfulness of this soup in the making.

The broth did not have that much time to fully develop before they had to eat it, but it was still very tasty.  I took the leftover soup home since I did not want to waste it.  (Most of the time I bring the leftovers to the office for the staff directors to enjoy but soup is a little awkward to share around an office!)  I immediately put it in my stock pot and let it simmer with the meatballs and the little bit of orzo that remained.  The flavors came together so nicely that I was almost a little surprised.  I dare say it was one of the best soups I have tasted.  Vinnie and I had it for dinner tonight topped with grated parmesan and fresh cracked pepper.  I think we both agree that this soup is going to be made again and again!

The smell was so enticing that we started eating it before I remembered to  take a picture.

Italian Wedding Soup (recipe from the Whole Foods website with my added notes)
There are endless variations on this soup, but the main elements are meatballs and greens. While the name indicates that the soup might be served at an Italian wedding, it is actually a mistranslation of minestra maritata, which refers to the "marriage" of greens and meat in the soup.

1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, beaten
As I mentioned above, I made my own meatball recipe, but this one looks good, too.  I omitted pork because many people do not eat pork.  I will probably cook them in the broth next time I make this.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter I used olive oil
3/4 cup chopped white onions
3/4 cup chopped carrots
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and halved
1 cup uncooked orzo 
2 cups shredded kale (I used fresh baby spinach)

For the meatballs, put beef, pork, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, egg, nutmeg, and paprika into a large bowl and use your hands to mix well. Use a teaspoon to measure out meat for even sized meatballs. With damp hands, shape them into 1-inch balls and transfer them to a large plate. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.  Due to time constraints and food safety concerns for a camp, I baked them in the oven an hour before I needed them.  They had cooled to just about room temperature by the time we needed them and we added them to the cooked broth.

For the soup, melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, garlic, salt and pepper and cook until translucent and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir in broth, tomatoes, and 2 cups water. Cover and cook 10 minutes over medium heat or until soup comes to a boil.

Add meatballs and orzo to the boiling soup and stir to make sure they are fully submerged. Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes over medium heat. Stir in kale. Test a meatball and a piece of orzo to ensure that they are fully cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.  Top with grated parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.  

August 17, 2012
I made this soup last night, cooking both the meatballs and the orzo in the broth, as called for.  Epic Failure.  The orzo kept expanding and soaking up all the broth.  Plus I realized that I really like browned meatballs.  Next time I will cook both separately, as I did at camp, and then add it to the cooked broth.

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