I will confess that I watch every cooking show out there. It was my Saturday morning habit since high school to watch our local PBS station for all the cooking shows. I absorbed all the advice, tips, methods and creativity like a dry sponge thrown in a bucket. Half the time I would fall asleep though, due to staying up till the wee hours celebrating the end of the work week, so you might say that some of that learning was through osmosis!
In the early years of cable the cooking shows were terrific, now not so much but I still leave it on, even if I’m not paying attention to it overmuch. This week, on a wild and stormy night, I was knitting away on a pair of socks and all of a sudden my attention was snapped to the tv like a cat spying a laser light flashed on a wall. Ina Garten was making chicken soup.
Chicken soup holds a spot of great affection in my heart, and I have tried more variations upon a theme than Mozart. Like Mozart there is no one good recipe for chicken soup, and, in my mind, there is always room for another recipe in my kitchen.
I liked the look of Ina’s chicken soup. It had fat little meatballs made of chicken, which appeals to me much more than a beef or a pork meatball. This soup also had fresh spinach, tiny soup pasta and carrots, and *dill*! How divine it looked! I really wanted a bowl right then and there.
The next day I was still thinking about it and the rain had calmed somewhat when someone twittered that they were actually making this very same soup! It seemed like the thing to do so I pulled chicken breasts and sausages out of my cleverly packed freezer, and headed to the store between rainstorms for spinach and herbs, and a few other necessities such as Cambozola and rose champagne. I also needed Pecorino and they had just cracked a huge wheel of it, so delicious.
Back indoors in the nick of time, I started making my beautiful bowl of soup. This recipe is a whole lot easier if you purchase ground chicken, but I have an aversion to pre-ground meats. Do you really know what is in it, when it was ground and how well the grinder was cleaned? So given that and how easy it is to grind up a couple of chicken breasts myself, I popped on the grinder attachment on the Kitchen Aid and in less than 2 minutes the chicken was done. Then I cubed up a piece of good sourdough bread and tossed it into the grinder. This cleans out all the chicken from the grinder but also is a quick way to make fresh breadcrumbs.
In the minichop I minced up some garlic and handfuls of fresh parsley, added the cheeses and then popped the skins off of the sausages and mixed everything up.
These sausages are special, from the Lockeford Meat & Sausage Co. on the highway up to the Gold Country. For years I have wanted to stop there and it was all at once worth the wait and yet I am kicking myself for not stopping there earlier. They make about twenty varieties and the four kinds I brought home were not nearly enough. Although the soup recipe called for a half pound of chicken sausages, I had purchased exactly a half pound of fat little breakfast links from Lockeford so they were destined to be used in my preparation.
(the Lockeford Shop window, me and my haul of snausages, a painting of pigs above the shop counter – cute! If you go, check out the maple, the apple, the breakfast and the Dakota sausages, oh so good!)
I especially like that the meatballs are baked, so I formed them into little balls and baked them off, in two batches, and then started chopping the soup vegetables. Because I adore carrots I used a whole bunch, plus a fat Spanish onion and the last of the celery. I also had some green beans left from a giant packet from Costco so I added about 2 cups of them too. That’s the nice thing about soup, you can really add anything in the fridge to it and the additions only make it better.
The vegetables were sauteing in a nice glug of green olive oil and by that time the meatballs were finished roasting. I couldn’t resist and had to sample one. Well, three. Well, okay four but they were really delicious. They have a snappy bite with a good chicken flavor overlaid with a nice garlic and herb note, then the subtle earthiness of the cheese comes through.
While the meatballs were cooling, and I was trying to resist temptation and avoid snacking on any more, I added a lot of chicken broth to the pot, although sadly not homemade, and a hefty glass of wine (some of the wine was for me too naturally).
(Michael and David Enigma, a Viogner, 2006. Note the sheen of condensation on the glass. My fridge is too cold, so if you pour a glass of wine and it looks like this, it’s too chilled to drink. I take my white wines out of the fridge to sit for 30 minutes before serving.)
The vegetables and broth simmered away together and I splashed about in the sink washing a wonderful bunch of Cal-Organic spinach. This was the perkiest, most gorgeous bunch of spinach ever, so delicious and tender.
I had a smidgen of a packet of good soup pasta in the pantry, this is artisanal extruded pasta from Italy, fat miniature stars, and they look so adorable when cooked up and nestled in your soup spoon. I tossed them in the soup for 12 minutes. Next time, I will cook them separately to keep the soup more brothy.
The meatballs and a huge mound of freshly chopped dill went in the soup pot next, then a few grinds of fresh black pepper. A moment later all the spinach went in, swirled around with my wooden spoon, then it was time for dinner. Of course I burned my tongue a little because I couldn’t wait for the soup to cool for a moment before trying it. I sat curled up on a chair next to the radiator, listening to the rain patter on the windows behind me while I enjoyed my beautiful bowl of soup. What a perfect rainy evening!
Ina’s Italian Wedding Soup
2 chicken breasts, ground*
4 breakfast sausages, removed from their casings, or ½ # chicken sausages
1 fat slice of sourdough bread, ground or 2/3 c fresh white bread crumbs
1 clove of garlic, minced
A large handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
¼ c Pecorino Romano
¼ c Parmesan, plus extra
3 T milk (I forgot to put this in but it was fine)
1 egg, beaten a little
½ tsp. salt and 6 grinds of pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch of carrots, scrubbed well and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 c fresh green beans, chopped into ½” lengths
10 c chicken stock
A glass of dry white wine
1 c small pasta (cook separately in salted water if desired)
A large handful fresh dill, chopped
A large bunch of fresh spinach, well washed, stems removed, large leaves torn in half
Salt (if needed) and pepper
Mix the meatballs
Mix well with your hands all of the meatball ingredients, and then wash your hands. With damp hands, roll a tablespoon of meat mixture to form 1” – 1 ½” balls, place on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake for 30 minutes at 350˚ F or until they are cooked through and browned. Try not to eat too many.
*If you don’t have a meat grinder or a KitchenAid grinder attachment, you can grind the chicken breasts using a Cuisinart. Use the metal blade, cut the chicken into large chunks and pulse about six times or until the meat is ground nicely. You can also grind your own fresh breadcrumbs in the Cuisinart. Use the same method with a clean bowl and pulse until the bread is is small crumbs. If you don’t have any of this equipment, put it on your birthday/Christmas wish list and buy pre-ground chicken meat at a really good butcher.
Make the soup base
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sauté the soup vegetables until tender, 10-15 minutes. Then add the stock and wine and simmer for 15 minutes. Then, add the pasta and cook until tender (unless you cooked it separately). Add the meatballs and dill, simmer a minute, then add the spinach. Stir in the spinach down into the broth and simmer until it is tender, another minute. Serve with extra Parmesan if you want. Excellent on a rainy night.
I hope the next rainy night you try making this soup. Or on any night! I also think these meatballs would be a great appetizer for a potluck if they are served in some sort of sauce, I will work on that and let you know. I am not sure why this is called wedding soup. It has never been served at any of the zillion Italian weddings I have attended. If you know the origins behind the name, please do share.