It’s been probably five years since I shared a drafty, old Chicago apartment with my best friend Maggie and my sister Maddy. We laughed, cried, fought, watched lots of bad movies, stayed up too late and drank too much. The three of us grew up a lot during those years and will always be connected by that funny old place with the slanted floor, the chronically smelly second bathroom and the bedroom with no door.
It was during that time that I decided I wanted to be a food writer. Since I was known to often panic over the uncertain future of my career (I was still a financial reporter at the time) and Maggie was sometimes homesick for Milwaukee, the best way I knew to fix our problems was through soup. I’d order her to take a seat on the stool we kept in the kitchen and DJ from her laptop while I chopped, sauteed, poured and stirred with my favorite beat-up wooden spoon. From potato leek to sausage & lentil to Italian wedding, I tested soup recipes on the world’s easiest food critic, all while we cured homesickness and performed amateur therapy.
Now whenever I offer to cook for Maggie, she almost always requests soup. “Ooh, what about the Italian wedding soup you made that time?” she’ll venture. “But I don’t feeeeel like rolling all those tiny meatballs,” I protest. Then last week I finally caved, realizing it was high time for a little weddin’ soup therapy.
There are lots of interpretations when it comes to wedding soup, though they all involve those little meatballs. My favorite version is the one with pasta because that turns the soup into a meal. I am usually not a fan of ground chicken, but I like the idea of blending it with sausage for a lighter flavored, more delicate meatball. I also added a little lemon zest for brightness.
adapted from Ina Garten
3/4 pound ground chicken
1/2 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup grated Pecorino romano
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus additional for serving
3 tablespoons milk
1 extra large egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
3 carrots, cut in 1/4-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/4-inch pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
10 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta shapes
1/4 cup minced dill, plus more for garnish
12 ounces baby spinach (could substitute finely chopped chard or kale, though I’d recommend adding it sooner)
Method: Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, sausage, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, zest, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, salt and pepper until well mixed. With clean hands, shape about 50 teaspoon-sized meatballs and place them on parchment-lined sheet trays.
This step will take you a little while, enough time for the dog to tire out from begging.
Bake the meatballs for about 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through. It’s OK to cut one open and check that the juices run clear–you did make 50 of them after all. Set aside.
For the soup, heat a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium, and add the olive oil, onion, carrots, celery, salt and pepper. Saute the vegetables until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Turn the heat up to medium high; add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and meatballs to the soup and simmer for another minute or two. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra dill and grated Parmesan. Serves 4 to 6.