Last week I went to Kreiger's Market in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio to see what kind of yummy fresh stuff I could get. While there, I saw some beautiful fresh escarole and knew immediately that Italian Wedding soup would be on the menu very soon!
Italian Wedding Soup is probably my favorite soup with a close contender being my mom's oxtail soup for the top spot. mmm oxtail soup. *shaking myself out of the oxtail reverie*
Let's start with the mini meatballs. I'm pretty much exclusively using ground turkey these days and I know there are some people out there who do not like it at all. In truth, it took some getting used to, but now that we are used to it, I rarely ever buy ground beef. On the day I was making the soup, I also had several other things going on so forgive my lack of photo documentation. There is some, but not as much as I would usually have. The brain can't hold on to too many things at once.
I used half a pound of ground turkey, 1 half cup of Italian seasoned bread crumbs, one small onion and 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped (I actually put them in the food processor so they would be super fine!) and sauteed in 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a quarter cup of grated Parmesan cheese, one egg and salt and pepper to taste. Once you mix all these ingredients together, by hand is best, shape into small meatballs. Not so small that they will disappear when you cook them, but not as big as a ping pong ball. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 until they are nicely browned, about 20 minutes or so. I got about 30 meatballs or so from the half pound of ground turkey.
While the meatballs are baking, take one leek (or two shallots, or a small onion), chopped, and saute it in 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. If you use a leek, be sure to clean it well. If you watch any cooking shows you probably already know how to clean a leek, but I'll tell you anyway. Cut off the tops and the root, cut down the middle and then chop so you have half moon shapes or a half circle shape. Then soak in a bowl of cold water so the grit can go to the bottom. My leek was so full of grit, I almost need to toss it in the washing machine! Speaking of, did you ever see Alton Brown using his washing machine as a salad spinner? He did!
I like leeks in soup for their mellowness. Don't brown them, just cook them enough that they soften and become yummy deliciousness.
Then in a large pot, add 4-5 cups of chicken stock or broth (homemade is always best but if you don't have it, a good quality boxed broth will do - Kitchen Basics is my fave, but Giant Eagle's Market District broth is also good and a little less expensive), your baked meatballs and the sauteed leeks on medium low heat. You don't want this to boil, just simmer. If you use store bought broth, be sure to taste before you season. Some of them can be a bit salty. You may not want to add more salt. Otherwise, always season as you go!
Now you need another pot to boil your pasta. When I get Italian Wedding soup out, most of the time the pasta used is a pearl type pasta. I like it, and I would like to use it. But I have never been able to find it in the store. It is not Acini di pepe. It is a little bigger than that. So the question I pose to you readers is, is pearl pasta actually Israeli Couscous? Or is it it's own thing that I just cannot find in my area anywhere, even specialty shops? Are they interchangeable or is Israeli Couscous a good substitution for pearl pasta?
Since I can't find pearl, I use orzo. And I don't like to cook my pasta directly in the soup. I prefer to boil water and cook the pasta separately and then add it to the soup. To me, the consistency of the pasta is just better this way. So while your pasta water is boiling, you can prep your escarole.
There are certain things I just will not do when it comes to Italian Wedding soup. For instance, I will not abide by spinach in Italian Wedding soup. It must be escarole. No exceptions! Spinach is just plain wrong. And I don't dislike spinach. It's just not how this soup was meant to be. So suck it up and buy the escarole! Clean and chop up a whole head and then put it in your soup.
It's going to look like an overflowing pot of greens, but they cook down very quickly. Just stir it in a few times.
You may be wondering why I'm not using the glorious red pot for this soup. Truth be told, I probably should have used it. But I was thinking it I was making a small amount of soup and the glorious pot was too big. It probably wasn't. Anyway, once your escarole cooks down and your orzo or other pasta of your choice (I know some who do use the Acini di pepe and others who use ditalini) is done cooking, add that to the soup. And then all that's left after letting all the ingredients cook together for about 10-15 minutes, is pure enjoyment!