When most people think of Italian Wedding Soup, they understandably associate it with weddings. Sounds logical, right? Well, what if I told you that this popular Italian dish has nothing to do with weddings at all? Yes, it’s true. Before you scoff, let me explain.
The Italian name for this soup is Minestra Maritata, which literally translates into “married soup” in English. Therein lies the confusion. Somewhere along the way, the incorrect assumption was made that this soup was created to be served at wedding feasts. In fact, “married soup” actually refers to the harmonious marriage of flavors of the ingredients within the soup, and not the venue in which is it served.
Minestra Maritata is a traditional Neapolitan soup containing greens and meat in a clear broth. It is an extremely old dish that is thought to be of Roman origin. The original version of this soup was quite heavy, containing lots of different meats and leafy green vegetables. It was intended to be a hearty and filling meal. The more modern and “Americanized” version is much lighter, replacing the boiled meats with little meatballs. Some variations also include pasta.
My version of Italian Wedding Soup is the one I grew up on. This is the soup that both my grandmother and mother used to make on a regular basis. It is made with a light chicken stock and includes pasta, spinach and the most fluffy, melt-in-your mouth mini-meatballs. The airiness and lovely texture of these meatballs is due to two things. First, I use ground veal to make them, instead of ground beef. Second, I don’t fry or bake the meatballs before adding them to the soup. Instead, I gently simmer them in the soup. I also use panko crumbs instead of regular bread crumbs, which can sometimes make the meatballs a little dense and dry.
When time permits, I like to make a homemade chicken stock for my Minestra Maritata, but canned broth works just fine in a pinch. You could also try the semi-homemade stock I use in my “Quick, But it Tastes Like it Took All Day” Chicken Soup.
Minestra Maritata “my way” is a delightful and flavorful soup that would make a perfect first course at any meal. You could even serve it at a wedding, if you wanted to. But the nice thing is, you can enjoy it any time you want!
Minestra Maritata (Italian Wedding Soup)
For the Meatballs:
- 1/2 pound ground veal
- 1/2 pound finely ground pork (or chicken)
- 1 small onion, grated
- 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (more if needed)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Soup:
- 3 quarts homemade chicken stock, canned low-sodium chicken broth or a combination of the two
- 1 pound fresh baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped (or one package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry)
- 1 batch of uncooked meatballs (see above)
- 1/2 pound cooked small pasta, such as acini di pepe or tubettini
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- To make the meatballs: Gently mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Don’t overwork it. Using teaspoon-sized scoops, form the meat mixture into small balls about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Place on a baking sheet and set aside.
- To make the soup: Bring the stock or broth to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Carefully add the meatballs, one by one, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Do not stir the pot at this point or you’ll risk breaking up the meatballs! Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.
- Add the spinach and continue to simmer until wilted, about 2-3 minutes more.
- Add the cooked pasta to the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top.
Makes 8 generous servings.