Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Italian Wedding Soup


When I was a kid, I loved Progresso's Chickarina© Soup which is chicken soup with little chicken meatballs. It's a regional thing; I can't find it in Colorado. But, Italian Wedding Soup, a chicken broth with little chicken meatballs and greens, is pretty close. It's a good dish for sneaking some greens into your diet.

Here's my rendition of that soup.

The broth is stock in a box, the best way to get a decent stock without simmering bones for hours. The meatballs are made from scratch and take a bit of time, but you can cook them, freeze them, and then reheat them in soup when you want a comforting bowl of soup. These meatballs are very tasty and would be delicious in a meatball sub too. For the soup, we make them small.

Italian Wedding Soup
(serves 6, costs $10)

Meatballs (makes enough meatballs for 2 batches of soup)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground chicken
½ pound ground lean beef
1 large egg
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (see Note)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
10 sprigs of parsley, chopped
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
leaves from 1 sprig of basil, minced or 1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Soup
10 cups low-sodium chicken stock
salt if needed
6 cups (about 6 oz.) fresh greens such as escarole, chard, or spinach, washed and chopped coarsely
¼ cup soup pasta such as stars, alphabets, or use broken pieces of angel hair pasta
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan for garnish
¼ teaspoon black pepper for garnish

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saut√© for a few minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until onion is soft and golden. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray or oil lightly with vegetable oil.

Combine the rest of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix together thoroughly. Shape into 1 ½" meatballs and place on the greased baking sheet. Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes. You can turn them after 10 minutes if they seem to be browning quickly on the bottom, but this usually isn't necessary. Remove from oven. At this point, you can drop half of them immediately in the soup and serve. Cool the rest in the fridge and freeze for some later batch of soup or refrigerate for use with a few days.

To make the soup, bring the stock up to a simmer. If using frozen meatballs, add the greens and meatballs. You'll need to simmer them for about 15 minutes. Add the pasta after 10 minutes. The meatballs are completely cooked already but you don't want to bite into a semi-frozen meatball.

If using hot meatballs, add the pasta along with the greens and meatballs and cook for 5 minutes until greens are wilted and the pasta is done. Taste for salt. You may need to use more if you use a sodium-free stock.

To serve, ladle in soup, greens, and 4 meatballs into a bowl. Garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Note: To make fresh breadcrumbs, very lightly toast the bread (or use slightly stale bread which isn't as soft) and use the fine side of a grater to grate it into crumbs. You can also grate them in the food processor. A slice of bread with yield about ½ cup bread crumbs.

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