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Italian Wedding Soup is a nourishing meal that’s neither rich nor creamy

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 12/22/2021 Sheryl Julian
Italian Wedding Soup. © Sheryl Julian Italian Wedding Soup.

The holidays can’t be all rosy duck, creamy potatoes, and chocolate tart. There are days in between when you just want a break from high-octane recipes and rich desserts. And maybe a guest is stopping by for supper (though who knows if impromptu visits will happen this year).

For those nights, you need a few easy, dependable dishes of the everyday variety. I might roast a chicken — this is a default position — and serve it on a bed of salad, or broil pork tenderloins coated with a mustard marinade, or make bowls of brown rice and top them with whatever’s in the fridge.

When it’s frosty outside, the night demands a pot of soup. Lately in my kitchen that’s Italian Wedding Soup, which has nothing to do with Italian weddings. It’s a Neapolitan specialty made with meatballs that are slipped into a pot of broth with tiny pasta and some greens. Bowls are sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan.

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An almost instant version of this is something I call Farmhouse Egg Soup, which needs no recipe. You simply bring a pot of chicken broth to a boil and when it’s bubbling, poach a few eggs in the pot. Ladle the broth and an egg into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan, and serve with thick slices of crusty bread. That healthy and warming bowl can have all kinds of garnishes instead of cheese, including a squirt of sriracha, a sprinkle of scallions, sauteed cabbage and ginger in the pot, a dash of soy sauce at the table.

Italian Wedding Soup, only slightly more difficult, is as old as the hills. A pot with bits of meat simmered with wild greens that the cook would collect outside her own kitchen is an ancient formula. The name is really minestra maritata (“married soup”) because the meat and greens are considered to be so compatible in the pot.

Most recipes make meatballs with pork and beef, but I prefer ground dark meat turkey, now carried by most markets. Add a couple slices of bread cubes soaked in milk, and mash them with your hands into a paste. Then work in an egg, some Parmesan, and a little chopped parsley with your hands. After you shape meatballs, drop them into boiling water to cook; they take less than 5 minutes. Lift out the meatballs and add minuscule pasta shapes to the boiling water. You can use rice-shaped orzo, ditalini or small tubes, tiny rounds called acini de pepe, or farfalline, which are miniature bow ties. These simmer briefly in hot broth — as always, homemade is better than commercial, but do what’s easiest — and then you can add one of the traditional greens, such as escarole or cabbage, or handfuls of baby spinach or kale.

That’s all the cooking you’re doing to make this substantial and soothing pot. Get some good Parmesan and a crusty loaf to go with it. Your guests will appreciate something light but filling and your waistline will, too.


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