A visit to one of my favorite local farms inspired this month’s recipe. The fields at KK’s the Farm in Southold were glowing green and purple on a beautiful fall day as Farmer Gordon kindly harvested some tender chard, spinach, and spicy mustard for me. My bounty was taken home, ready to star in a large batch of Italian Wedding soup.
This hearty Italian soup’s origins were not as a sumptuous dish served at nuptial celebrations, but derived from the term, minestra maritata, or married soup to denote the marrying of inexpensive pieces of meat and vegetables in peasant cuisine. The dish moved from its roots in Naples to the United States, where it typically consists of a rich broth with greens, meatballs or sausage and sometimes pasta.
It makes a wonderful hearty dish to serve over the holidays. I kicked off the festive season with assistance from two skilled cooks and great friends. Pat Zelinski chopped greens and advised me on the finer points of meatball making, as she expertly rolled them out by the dozen. Kim Dyla (for great food content follow her on Instagram @thescratchiest) tasted, organized, and snapped photos.
The soup was delicious and the company even better. Fresh local ingredients and several pairs of helping hands made for a great evening. One that I hope you get to duplicate with your friends and family this holiday season.
Lamb, beef and pork or a combination work well, and be sure to add a little sausage meat for flavor. If you are using ground chicken, make sure it is not more than 80 percent lean, and combine it with some chicken sausage. The tasty heritage organic pork and beef I used came from 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue. Their sustainable practices and superior quality meat make them a local favorite. To ensure all of the ingredients are thoroughly blended, use a clean pair of hands to mix everything together. As you can never have too many meatballs, I made a double batch. Half for the soup and half for the freezer.
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
¾ lb. sweet Italian sausage meat
5 slices good quality white bread, crusts removed
½ cup whole milk
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1¼ cups finely grated fresh parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 large egg, beaten
Fine Sea salt
Fresh black pepper
Break up the bread slices, place in a shallow bowl and pour over the ½ cup of milk. Use your hands to thoroughly mix the bread and milk to a paste. Place the ground meat and sausage in a large bowl and grate in the garlic, using a micro plane grater. Thoroughly mix in the softened bread, making sure it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Add in the parsley, cheese, salt, and pepper. Add in the beaten egg and a little extra milk if the mixture is too dry.
At this stage, check for seasoning. Heat a little oil in a skillet and drop in a couple of teaspoons of the mixture and cook until browned. Taste and add extra salt, pepper cheese and garlic if needed. Place the mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up.
Remove the mixture from the fridge and form bite-sized meatballs, placing them on two large sheet pans. Place the pans in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside while the soup is cooking.
The Soup Base
Unlike a richer long simmering soup such as minestrone, this soup cooks fairly quickly to keep the flavors fresh and bright. Choose tender greens, such as Swiss chard and spinach. If you can find mustard greens use sparingly (they are quite strong and peppery) for the fantastic flavor, they impart. The greens from KK’s The Farm are biodynamically grown and really make a difference. The onions and garlic were from Deep Roots farm on Main Road Southold. I used homemade stock from a meaty chicken carcass simmered with celery, leeks, and onions. If you are purchasing broth, I highly recommend Kettle and Fire Organic. It is available from Fit Foods in Southold, or bulk purchase online from Amazon or Thrive Market.
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ yellow onions finely chopped
2 large ribs of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 quarts good quality chicken stock
5 cups greens washed and chopped
¾ cup dried ditalini or other small pasta shapes
Salt and fresh black pepper
Gently heat the olive oil in a large heavy pan. Add the onions and celery and sauté gently while stirring until they are softened. Add a little extra olive oil and the garlic and cook for about a minute. Pour in the chicken stock, bring the soup to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the ditalini pasta and simmer for five minutes, before adding the greens and the meatballs, together with any pan juices. Simmer the soup gently for a further seven to ten minutes until the greens are cooked. Place in warmed bowls and drizzle on a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve with garlic bruschetta and freshly grated parmesan.
Cut thick slices of sourdough bread and toast under the broiler. Rub one side of the toasted bread with a peeled clove of garlic. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt.