Italian Wedding Soup

Soup1-PotItalianMeatballs

This comforting and classic Italian soup is made with pork and beef meatballs, greens, and tiny pasta. It's ready in about an hour from start to finish, great for a weeknight meal!

Photography Credit: Sheryl Julian

Italian wedding soup is a quick and hearty dinner that only looks like you worked long and hard to make it.

Versions of the soup have been made all over the Mediterranean for centuries. It’s a nourishing meal that’s easy enough for any weeknight.

Italian Wedding Soup Recipe

Why is it Called Italian Wedding Soup

Calling this “Italian wedding soup” is somewhat of a misnomer since the dish is unrelated to weddings. The name is said to come from the words “minestra maritata,” which mean “married soup.” Here, rather than the couple joining together, it’s all the flavors in the pot that balance each other so well.

Peasant cooks, who originally made it with vegetables they grew and scraps of meat trimmed from larger cuts, apparently liked the way the soup came together— a good “marriage” of ingredients!

Romantic Italian-Americans turned it into “wedding soup,” and lots of stories emerged from there.

How to Make Italian Wedding Soup

Just shape ground pork and beef meatballs and simmer them in chicken stock, then add leafy greens and cooked pasta, and simmer.

You can brown the meatballs separately in a skillet (or bake them in a hot oven) and add those caramelized balls to the simmering stock, but Nonnas in Italy would have dropped the shaped meatballs right into the soup because these women didn’t have many burners and some didn’t have indoor ovens.

If they had kitchen gardens beside the house, they would have added whatever they grew or foraged along the countryside, like wild chicory or fennel. They used what they had. Follow their lead and use what you can find in your supermarket, including baby spinach or arugula.

Easy Italian Wedding Soup Recipe

What Kind of Pasta to Use

I particularly love adding Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous) to this soup. The tiny beads of pasta take the same short time to cook as regular pasta and look so pretty in the pot.

For this soup, you could also use tiny stubby pasta rings called ditalini, rice-shaped orzo, or the miniscule pasta grains called acini de pepe. (I don’t recommend North African couscous for this recipe, which is made from ground durum wheat and partially cooked.)

What to Serve with Italian Wedding Soup

As a side dish, you might serve a vegetable with a little vinegar, like these Balsamic-Glazed Red Onions or Cider Vinaigrette Roasted Root Vegetables.

Can You Freeze Italian Wedding Soup

This soup keeps well frozen for up to 3 months. Just add a little fresh parmesan before serving, if desired.

ITALIAN SOUPS ARE DELICIOUS! HERE ARE MORE!

Updated October 28, 2019 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle! No changes to the original recipe.

Italian Wedding Soup Recipe

  • Prep time: 40 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings

To save time, get the pasta water boiling and cook the pasta while you mix and shape the meatballs. Set yourself a timer so you don't forget about the pasta!

Ingredients

For the meatballs:

  • 1 small soft dinner roll or 2 slices white bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup milk (any kind)
  • 1 large egg
  • 8 ounces ground beef
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 small onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper 

For the soup:

  • 3/4 cup tiny pasta, such as Israeli or pearl semolina couscous, orzo, ditalini, or acini de pepe
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/2 head or bunch escarole, Swiss chard, or kale, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

Method

1 Cook the pasta: In a soup pot, bring a generous amount of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and the pasta.

Let the water return to a boil, lower the heat, and let the pasta bubble steadily for 6 minutes, or until it is almost tender and still has a slight crunch in the middle. Drain the pasta and transfer to a bowl; set aside.

Italian Meatball Soup

2 Soak the bread pieces: While the pasta water is coming to a boil and the pasta is cooking, mix the bread pieces with the milk or water in a large bowl.

Use your fingers to work the milk into the bread, like a sponge. Set aside for 10 minutes. Again, using your fingers, work the mixture until it forms a paste. Stir in the egg until incorporated.

3 Make the meatball mixture: To the bowl with the bread and egg mixture, add the remaining meatball ingredients. With a spoon or your hands, work the mixture until it is well blended.

Italian Meatball Soup

4 Shape the meatballs: Set a bowl of cold water on the counter. Dip your hands into the water. Use a spoon to scoop out tablespoon-size pieces of the mixture, then dip your hands into the water after every few meatballs to keep them from sticking to your hands.

Shape into rounds with your hands and transfer to a plate. Continue until all the mixture is used; you should have about 28 to 30 meatballs.

Italian Meatball Soup

5 Cook the meatballs: Add the stock to the soup pot used to cook the pasta and bring to a boil. Use a long metal spoon to add the meatballs to the soup, several at a time.

Return the liquid to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Italian Meatball Soup

6 Finish the soup: Add the greens to the stock pot, pressing with a soup ladle to submerge them. Add the pasta. Return to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pan.

Cook for 3 minutes, or until the greens and pasta are tender and the meatballs are cooked through.

Taste the broth for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Ladle into bowls and serve with Parmesan.

Italian Wedding Soup Recipe

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Sheryl Julian

Sheryl Julian is an award-winning writer, editor, and food stylist. She is the former food editor of The Boston Globe, co-author of The Way We Cook, and editor of The New Boston Globe Cookbook. Her food sections won Best Newspaper Food Coverage from the Association of Food Journalists in 2015.

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4 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Aimee

    An old friend told me years ago to grate hard boiled eggs into the soup (the larger grate) and I have done so ever since, maybe 4 eggs total. The yolk gives the broth a creamer consistency and the egg whites just blend right into the other ingredients.

  2. Leanne

    This soup was absolutely delicious, and seemed to taste better with each bite! I didn’t have any Swiss chard or kale on hand so used about 6 cups of loosely packed spinach instead. I also happened to be using up the end of my Parmesan cheese, so I added the rind to the pot just as the meatballs were simmering and discarded it just before serving. Seriously great soup!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Cynthia

    I just made this for dinner. I cannot beleive the flavor and it’s so simple! I used three different types of kale and a couple leafs of chard. The flavor of the kale with the broth is amazing! I also used the Israel couscous so the soups wasn’t overwhelmed by pasta! I also replaced the ground pork with ground turkey. Very, very good.

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