After my stepdad’s memorial, mOm and I drove back up to her house in the country for some much needed rest and relaxation, the car filled with flowers from the service.
In case you have ever wondered about the capitalization of “mOm’, she started signing cards and emails this way, saying the O in Mom was for a big hug, how completely adorable.
This has been a tough winter and whenever the road life takes you on gets bumpy we gravitate to comfort food. To me, that means a brothy soup with lots of great vegetables and something meaty.
Mom and I love cooking together, even when our hearts are heavy. My produce CSA box was delivered a few days before the service so I brought up a huge bag of beautiful cooking greens, winter root vegetables and lettuces. Mom found a recipe online for Italian Wedding soup and wanted to make it with me, so we donned our favorite aprons and started assembling the soup ingredients. Not only do aprons keep your clothes tidy, they are also very absorbent for when tears fall unexpectedly. When you are grieving it is a lot like leaving the drip hose on in the garden accidentally, you don’t really notice the tears are falling until a puddle forms or the vision blurs. This is problematic when trying to chop things.
Many hugs later, while reading the recipe, we realized that the ingredients for the meatballs seemed really bland so we started pulling out cookbooks, looking at our favorite meatball recipes and all the many variations and finally settled on just using our favorite flavors in the Italian theme: garlic, oregano, basil, parsley.
Mom had in her fridge a pound of pork sausage and a pound of ground beef ground fresh from her local butcher. I love her grocery store, it’s been around since 1865 and was a former Wells Fargo pony express stop. The savvy agent added mercantile products and eventually the stop became the one and only grocery store in the township, and it still is the only game in town. The butchers are really nice and love special requests. Being in the country, their customers are heavy meat eaters so everything is really fresh. Seafood, on the other hand, is an impossibility. I love that behind the counter the staff have a lot of their buck and other animal heads mounted on display, this goes to show you they know how to butcher everything.
I had made a wonderful stock using a duck leg and some wings and some odds and ends of bones from the freezer, which was our soup base but premade chicken stock would have been just fine too.
The meatball assembly was fun. Mom weighed out the meat while I played sous chef, chopping garlic and parsley to sprinkle over the ground meats in the bowl. Mom added grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses, plain breadcrumbs and dried oregano and salt and pepper and mixed up the bowl of meatballs. We decided to bake them since we omitted the egg in the batch in lieu of my allergies and we were not sure if the usual method of poaching the meatballs in the stock would work without the egg as a binder.
A half sheet jelly roll pan was lined with a Silpat and Mom used her smaller meatball scoop, which makes golf ball sized meat. I rolled them up quickly with water dampened hands. After a few meatballs were formed, we decided they should be smaller, so we halved the balls and ended up making 80 or so tiny balls.
It didn’t take too long to roll the little marble sized balls and space them on the baking pan. I tossed one in the hot stock and fried another one up in a skillet for a taste test and, surprisingly, the poached meatball did really well and did not fall apart. The additions to the meatballs were just what we had intended and we nailed the seasoning perfectly. Although both of them were delectable, the sauteed meatball was even more flavorful because of the browning process so proceeded with our plan to bake the meatballs.
Into the oven they went while we diced up onions, carrot, celery and a mound of kale and chard for the soup pot. I cooked a little diced bacon first to render the fat to sautée the vegetables and resisted the urge just to eat the mirepoix from the pan. The hot stock was poured in and I splashed in a few shakes of Worchestershire sauce and bitters to deepen the flavors of the broth.
When the meatballs were browned and sizzling from the oven, they were left to cool a bit and then we slid into the soup along with the kale. When the greens were tender it was time for supper. We sprinkled the last bits of the grated cheeses decadently over our soup bowls and tucked in while watching an episode of Sherlock on PBS.
I wish I had a photo to share because the soup was just lovely. The stock was a warm brown with tiny brunoise of vegetables, long shreds of bright green kale and little meatballs, just the size to nestle into the soup spoon comfortably but not too large so that you couldn’t fit in a mouthful of broth and a few vegetables. The cheese melted over some of the kale and some of the meatballs and then settled gently down to hug the bottom of the bowl, to be scraped up in long, cheesy strings, in subsequent mouthfuls. Time seemed to stop for that bowl of soup.
We ate contentedly, sitting side by side on the couch in the cozy family room, the heat from the kitchen spilling out into the room while the hot soup warmed us from the inside out.
The soup pot was still full so I ladled the soup into five or so plastic storage containers to be frozen for future dinners for Mom. There’s nothing like finding a tub of homemade soup on the freezer when you want a meal but don’t have the energy or motivation to cook, rather like finding forgotten money tucked away in a pocket.
Italian Wedding Soup