27 December 2006
what's cooking wednesday: italian wedding soup

This is my family's Christmas soup, and even though P had never even heard of it (hello? am I more Italian than you?), I made it as part of our Christmas festivities. Be forewarned: from start to finish, it was a 3 and a half hour (fun-filled) journey.

Italian wedding soup with escarole, mini-meatballs, pasta "bubbles" and egg drop on top is so time-consuming that it's usually made only for special occasions. Trust me, though, every minute of toiling over a hot stove is *so* worth it.

A few days ago was the first time I've ever made it by myself so indulge me while I give myself a big ole' pat on the back. I tried to pay special attention to the amounts of ingredients, because all that was passed down to me were basic guidelines (see my grandmother's original recipe for the pasta "bubbles" below). Incidentally, I've never seen another recipe that adds these "bubbles," as my grandmother called them, but they do add a lot to the soup (and personal satisfaction for a job well done).

Italian Wedding Soup
(serves 8-10)

For the broth:

1 three to four lb. chicken
Enough cold water to cover the chicken and to boil escarole
1 lb. escarole, chopped coarsely
3 stalks celery
3 white onions
2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste

For the mini-meatballs:
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tablespoon parsley
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying)

For the bubbles:
3 eggs
1/4 cup cold water
pinch salt
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying)

or, as my grandmother wrote:

For egg drop on top:
4 eggs
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
pinch salt

Take the chicken (an old hen if possible) and put it in a large stock pot, covering it with cold water. Cook on medium to high heat for about an hour and a half, skimming off any white foam that surfaces.

At the same time, put the coarsely chopped escarole in salted water and, as my mother says, "boil the hell out of it." Seriously, you're not going to overcook this, so just let it cook until you're ready to throw in into the broth.

In the meantime, mix together all of the meatball ingredients and make little 1/2 inch balls--about the size of a marble is what we're looking for. Put these aside.

For the bubbles, beat together the egg, water, and salt, and then add the flour until you get a thick dough. If it's sticky, add more flour. Take off chunks of the dough and make into little snakes, and then cut off 1/4 inch pieces on an angle. Keep the bubbles separated from one another by using lots of flour; they are happier this way.

Also in the time the chicken and escarole are cooking, clean the celery and onion. No need to chop, as you'll be putting them in the broth whole and then taking out their biggest remaining chunks later.

Now you're ready to fry the bubbles. Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan set to high heat. Add as many bubbles as comfortably fit. Once they are a light golden brown color all around, remove them and put on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Fry the meatballs in the same way, browning the surface, or, if you like, you can add them directly to the broth when you add the escarole and fried bubbles.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the water and let cool. Add the celery, onions, salt, and pepper to the broth, and let cook for another half hour or until you start to see that the vegetables are getting mushy. You'll want to take out the biggest chunks, but if you like, take some of the mushiest and chop them very finely to throw back in.

In the meantime, clean off the chicken and put the meat back into pot, discarding bones and skin.

After you've removed the celery and onion chunks, drain the escarole and add to the broth. Also add the bubbles and meatballs. This mixture needs to cook for another half hour or so (possibly longer if you didn't fry the meatballs). The bubbles shouldn't be chewy but rather al dente, like any good pasta, and the meatballs should have no pink left.

Now we're ready for the finishing touch--the egg drop on top. While bringing the soup to a boil, in a separate bowl, beat the egg, cheese, and salt together. Once the soup is boiling, drizzle the egg mixture over the top of soup, swirling with a fork while the egg sets. Once the eggs are cooked, your wedding soup is ready.

You can serve with fresh grated Pecorino if you particularly love this cheesy flavor as I do.
My grandmother also threw in a pasta called "Acine di Pepe," (àh-chin-ay dee péh peh) but, um, I couldn't find it. In Italy. Go figure.

And actually, a quick Google tells me that it's fairly popular in something called
Frog Eye Salad (anyone ever made this?) and that the Acine isn't necessarily easy to find in every part of America either. From personal experience, if you happen to be in Northeastern/Central PA, though, you should be fine.

Anyway, any small soup pasta will do, but this time around I let the bubbles speak for themselves, and the soup was as delicious as I remembered.

A tip: If you didn't add the bubbles, or want to add soup pasta too, cook the pasta separately, and keep separate. When serving, put the desired amount of pasta in a bowl and then put the soup on top. If you leave the pasta in the soup, the bits get really bloated, and no one's happy bloated.

On the same note, if you're storing leftover soup, take out the bubbles and keep them separate in the refrigerator as well; they, too, will suck up your hard-earned broth.
This is assuming your pot will fit in the fridge. If you live in a climate like where I grew up, you can do like we did and keep the pot of soup on the porch for natural refrigeration--just make sure it's actually cold enough to do so.

Because, you know, rancid wedding soup isn't really, how you say, enjoyable.

Buon appetito!

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Blogger Karen said...

Your recipes are being added to my collection weekly. I have a question about last week's though: what is pepperoncino? Not sure if I spelled that right....

Blogger sognatrice said...

What an honor, thanks! The peperoncino is a chili pepper, and it's big, big, big in Calabrian cooking. Doesn't always make a dish spicy, but heightens the flavor. I put a link to a page about the peperoncino on the recipe page with potatoes and peppers, but I'll probably do a whole post about it at some point. It's quite important to us here :)

Blogger Elle said...

Honestly, you look like SUCH an amazing cook. I want to eat your blog!!

I hope my other half never finds your blog - it would put me to shame (I cannot even boil an egg) :(

Anonymous J.Doe said...

My husband (from Italy) never heard of it either, but then so much of Italian cooking is regional.
Thanks for the recipe though.

Blogger Shan said...

Another yummy looking recipe. Italian Wedding soup is one of my all time faves. I don't think I would have ever attempted to make it on my own, but thanks to your recipe I just might.

Blogger Giulia said...

Wow, I had to hold myself from licking my monitor!
Funny thing about the acini di pepe...I never have a problem finding it.
I make it for my youngest often, about three to four times a week. She loves her pastina!

Blogger Gil said...

I knew that there was a lot of work involved to make Italian Wedding Soup but, never realized there was so much. Sounds great! We are still eating left over lasagna and meat from the gravy.

Blogger sognatrice said...

So glad to see so many enjoyed this recipe!

J Doe, yes, the cooking is regional, but this is actually a Calabrian recipe, and we live in Calabria--in the same town where my grandmother got the recipe from (her mother was born here)! I suppose it's something that has fallen off here over the years (like many words in dialect that I know but they don't use any more), so that while a hundred years ago (when my family left), it was made, but now they just don't really make it. I'll have to ask P's mom if she knows of it.

Anyway, for all future wedding soup makers, yes, this is a time-consuming recipe, but it's not actually difficult. It's soup, after all...how hard can it be? ;)

Anonymous lango said...

Che coincidenza! I was listening to a song by an indie Canadian band called Frog Eyes when I got to this post while trying to catch up with your earlier writings.

I'm also starting to, let's say, broaden my cooking a bit here, and your 'what's cooking wednesday's' will be a valuable resource in that quest.

Blogger sognatrice said...

Coincidenza is right! Kind of gross too, on the frog eye thing ;)

Anyway, there are a lot of recipes here much simpler than this...the most recent for refreshing summer pasta salad is one of my favorites :)

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