Italian wedding soup is a quick and hearty dinner that only looks like you worked long and hard to make it.
Just shape ground pork and beef meatballs and simmer them in chicken stock, then add leafy greens and cooked pasta. 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.
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.”
Peasant cooks, who originally made it with vegetables they grew and scraps of meat trimmed from larger cuts, apparently liked the way the soup came together – a good “marriage” of ingredients!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.
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.)
Italian Wedding Soup Recipe
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!
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
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.
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.
4 Shape the meatballs: Set a bowl of cold water on the counter. Dip your hands into the water and use a spoon to scoop out tablespoon-size pieces of the mixture.
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.
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.
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.
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