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The first time I served this soup to my grown son, Mark, he said it was the best soup he had ever tasted.  I took this declaration with the proverbial grain of salt, until he added, "It almost made me cry when I took the first sip!"

The name, Italian Wedding Soup, apparently is a bad translation of "Minestra Maritata", or literally, married soup, and refers to the marriage of flavors between the greens and the meats.  It's meant to be a one dish meal, served with crusty bread.   For more on the history of this dish, read Minestra Maritata at About.com and more at Wikipedia.

Personalize your version.  Keep in mind that there are as many variations on this soup as there are greens!  Try your hand by adding some of what you have on hand, or even mixing some greens. Escarole, a little endive, or even Chinese cabbage or bok choy are great, too.  It's sure to be a delicious and healthy meal.    Most have pasta, although it may not have originally been made with it centuries ago.

For working moms; make the meatballs the night before, refrigerate overnight to add to the soup for a fast gourmet meal the next evening.

Think it's a huge recipe?  Not once they get their first taste of it!  Also, during the cooking process, the broth will probably reduce to about three quarts or a little more.  In any case, you can freeze part of it for future feasting if it makes too much for your family.

Italian Wedding Soup

1 recipe of meatballs using approximately 1 lb. of lean ground beef, made very small and cooked   (Note #1)
4 quarts good chicken broth  (Note #2)
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and chopped
1 large stalk of celery, chopped 
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped OR 2 tsp dried basil

2 bay leaves
  (Note #3)
black pepper to taste
red pepper flakes
to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt to taste
10 oz pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed (Note #4)
8 oz. orzo or other tiny pasta (Note #5)

Put the broth on to boil while you prepare the veggies.  Add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, seasonings and lemon juice, but leave the salt for later. Bring to a full rolling boil, then turn down the heat and cook until the carrots are very tender.

Add salt to taste.  Squeeze the thawed spinach gently to remove excess liquid, and add with the pasta.  Bring back to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Add the meatballs and simmer gently until the pasta is well done and the meatballs are hot.  Extra cooking at a low simmer only improves this dish.

Serve with crusty bread, and, if you like, a sprinkle of good parmesan cheese.  Mangia!


Note #1:  Use our Easy Meatballs recipe or your favorite one.  I highly recommend cooking them in the oven, primarily because they are healthier than fried ones, and drier, which means they have less chance of falling apart in the soup or sauce.   For extra flavor, add 2 teaspoons of dried basil.  Do not use chopped veggies in your meatballs for soup; it causes them to fall apart.  And mix well before you form the little morsels.

Note #2:  Use fresh, canned or reconstituted chicken broth.  If you make your own, you can include a chicken breast, then cut it into small cubes and add with the meatballs.  Do not use bouillon cubes; the flavor's not right and it's too salty.   often have only two or three quarts of chicken broth, and add water to make the rest, adding enough Watkins Chicken Soup concentrate to reconstitute the water  added and until the flavor is right.

Note #3:  If you made your own chicken broth with bay leaves, you may wish to eliminate or reduce the bay leaves to 1.

Note #4:  Feel free to substitute fresh spinach, escarole, bok choy or other greens.  Endive is good too, but a little stronger, as are collards which you should only use if your family really likes them.

Note #5:  Orzo or riso are tiny pasta, like grains of rice or barley.  Alphabet pasta is cute for children.  The Hispanic supermarket where I usually shop rarely has orzo, so I buy their popular angel hair pasta and beat the heck out of the packaged fine noodles with a pestle or meat tenderizer until it's broken into tiny pieces. You could do this to vermicelli, too. Orzo is easier.  Or add gluten-free fine noodles, broken into small pieces.

Variations:

As you can see, there is no single way to make this delicious soup.  Look at them all and make up your own with the ingredients you have on hand or the ones your family likes best.  Mangia!

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