Its original name in Italian is minestra maritata, which translates to “wedding soup”. But some say a more appropriate name would be, “wedded broths”—as in leafy green vegetables (minestra) blended with meat (maritata). The marriage in this soup isn’t referring to the marriage between two people, like many believe, but rather to the dish’s nuanced flavors between the vegetables and meat. Blended and gently simmered, the two together make for a brothy union of complete perfection.
Wedding soup, or wedding soup with meatballs, as I call it, originates in the southern Italian region of Campania, where it’s found in various incarnations linked to traditional rituals. In the Alto Casertano, minestra maritata is related to the annual pig slaughter. In the Irpinia zone of southern Campania, deep in the Apennines, most recipes for this winter dish also call for nnoglia di maiale, a salami made from pressed, cured pork lending itself to a rich, meaty flavor like none other. And the Neapolitan version is richer in its meat content. This version of the soup encompasses three separate broths: pork skin and other scraps, beef shank and hen. A variety of local greens from around the area, each prepared separately before joining the broths in their wedded matrimony.
On the Amalfi Coast, the soup is prepared around Christmas as well as Easter. Owing to their distinct seasonal ingredients, the winter and spring versions could technically be considered two different dishes altogether.
Italian wedding soup history also has ties with America, where it was eventually brought by Neapolitans. The Americanized version is a lighter version. Some Americans considered the soup an exclusively winter dish, while others, like many Italians, embraced it in the springtime as well. Lacking the variety of bitter herbs readily available in south-central Italy, the diversity of greens was scaled back and reduced primarily to escarole in the States. The connection to the pork-slaughter ritual dissipated, small chicken meatballs crept into the equation, as did the addition of pasta and a new dish, with distinct similarities, emerged.
Tips For Making Italian Wedding Soup
- Broil the meatballs first.
- Make the meatballs small-medium, not too large.
- Only use fresh herbs.
- Use a combination of the two kinds of meats for maximum flavor.
- Use panko or fresh bread crumbs.
- Good quality parmesan is important here, don’t skimp.
- Use only small pasta such as orzo or acini de pepe.
- Greens such as spinach, kale, endive or escarole all work well in this soup.
In the soup world, this wedding soup with meatballs may require a little more prep than some of your average soups, but trust me, it’s worth it. It also counts as a meal, at least in my house. Served with a simple green salad and some freshly baked bread, you really can’t go wrong.
Wedding Soup With Meatballs
- For the Meatballs:
- 1/2 pound ground chicken
- 1/2 pound ground sausage
- 3/4 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4, Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, grated
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- For the Soup:
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup carrot, small dice
- 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
- 8 cups good quality chicken stock
- 1 cup orzo, preferably
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
- 2tablespoons fresh parley, finely chopped, for garnish
- Step 1 For the Meatballs: Position a rack in the middle of the oven preheat broiler to high. Lightly oil a baking sheet and set aside.
- Step 2 In a medium mixing bowl add the ground chicken, pork, breadcrumbs, milk, egg, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix well to blend.
- Step 3 Form the mixture into about 20-22 meatballs. Arrange the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet. Next, place the meatballs in the oven and broil until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Step 4 For the Soup: In a large stockpot add the oil and place over medium-high heat. When hot, but not smoking, add the onion, carrot and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Step 5 Add the chicken stock, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add orzo and salt, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is just tender, about 9 minutes.
- Step 6 Add the meatballs and spinach and, simmer until the meatballs are heated through and the spinach is wilted, 2 to 4 minutes. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
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