I couldn't have asked for a better start to 2010. It was quiet, restful and a lot of fun. Peter and I spent New Year's Eve at our friend's house next door, where they fixed us a delicious German dinner of herb-roasted turkey breast with a Gewurztraminer cream sauce and home made spatzle. I plan on asking my friend Allie for a lesson on how to make spatzle very soon. They're heavenly. We ended the evening by watching a funny DVD of Dinner for One, a fun New Year's Eve tradition that Allie and Brian learned about while living in Germany.
We spent the rest of the long weekend putting away our Christmas decorations, cleaning the house, sleeping in, going to the movies, and making this soup. I've never made Italian Wedding Soup before, but Ina Garten has a wonderful recipe in her latest cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics that I've wanted to try for sometime.
As usual, I had to do a little online research about the name of this dish. The only thing I knew about it was that it isn't a traditional Italian recipe. A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that it's an Italian-American recipe that is very popular in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. As for the name: it turns out that the name of this soup is a mistranslation of the Italian term minestra maritata ("married soup"), which refers to the fact that green vegetables and meat go well together. But it has nothing to do with weddings or getting married.
This is a perfect soup suited to start off the New Year after the indulgence of the holidays. A combination of ground chicken and sweet turkey sausage blended with fresh breadcrumbs, egg, milk, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano, parsley and garlic make for light but full-flavored meatballs. And baking them in the oven instead of cooking them in oil makes them even healthier. A small pasta added to the rich chicken broth adds a little heartiness without being too heavy, and delicate leaves of baby spinach added at the very end gives the soup freshness and good-for-you vitamins. This is eating healthfully at its tastiest. And who knows? If you make it for the Special Someone in your life, they may love it so much, you'll get a marriage proposal.
Italian Wedding Soup
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten
For the Meatballs
1/4 lb. ground chicken
1/2 lb. chicken or turkey sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh white breadcrumbs (take 3 slices white bread, remove crusts and pulse in a food processor)
2 tsp. minced garlic (2 cloves)
3 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 T. milk
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
For the Soup
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
10 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small-shape pasta, such as pastina, stelline or acini di pepe
3 cups baby spinach, washed and trimmed of stems
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
To make the meatballs, combine the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsely, Pecorino, Parmigiano, milk, egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix gently with a fork until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Using a teaspoon, form 1-inch to 1 1/4-inch meatballs and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.
Note: If you do not want to use all of the chicken/sausage mixture, you can freeze a portion of it to cook at a later time. Wrap well in plastic wrap and foil and freeze immediately after making the mixture.
For the soup, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion, carrots and celery and saute until softened, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the white wine and stir for about another minute. Add in the chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil. Add the pasta to the broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add in the meatballs and simmer for an additional minute. Taste and correct for additional salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with additional Parmigiano if desired.
Note: The pasta will thicken in the soup as it sits, so when reheating any leftovers, just add more chicken stock or water to thin the soup to the consistency you want.
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