Little bite-size meatballs loaded with spinach, meat, eggs, and Parmesan cheese, then baked before dropping them into a simmered broth with cheese tortellini and more healthy greens is known as the classic "Italian Wedding Soup" as we know it.
So I took my mother's gorgeous recipe for the Italian Wedding Soup and made a few minor changes to it, making it easier to make by eliminating a few steps in the cooking process. The outcome was really terrific, big on flavor, and very satisfying.
Growing up, our mom always made this soup with escarole and her famous mini meatballs ( which is a similar recipe as her Sunday meatballs) and served it as our first course on the holidays for several reasons. One, because the soup can be prepared the day before and reheated before serving. It was a way for our mom to organize and plan ahead in order for her to prepare her 5 course meal for the holiday.
Secondly, this soup, for as long as we could remember while growing up was always served as the first course at EVERY Italian wedding we have ever attended!! Honest! Especially during the late 60's and 70's. That's how the name "Italian Wedding Soup" came about. I swear! Every caterer up and down the east coast, especially among the Italian-American neighborhoods, all served this soup at the FIRST course at everyone's wedding. It was part of our culture to have a light dish - soup, as the appetizer back in those days.
Normally, mom makes her broth simmering water with a whole chicken and veggies for over 2 hours. Then she sautés the escarole separately, strains the soup and adds the escarole and meatballs into this delicious clear broth. NOT me. Maybe if I am snowed in for the day- I would.
My version of the Italian Wedding Soup is simpler. First, I added some chopped spinach to my meatball mixture for some added healthy greens in there, and again in the soup simply because fresh baby spinach doesn't require much cooking, like escarole.
The prep work is in the spinach meatballs, making a little smaller than a quarter, bite-size and then baking them until they are fully cooked.
How do I know if the meatballs have enough flavor before baking them?
I take a small frying pan and add one tablespoon of vegetable oil and fry up a few spinach meatballs to taste test them. I am not one to taste raw meat- Yuck! Honestly, I prefer them fried, but it requires more work and time. But they are delicious- fried!
These mini meatballs are so good fried, we can eat them alone - without the soup!
Italian Wedding Soup with Spinach Meatballs
- 1 (10 ounce) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, excess water squeezed out
- 1/2 pound chopped ground beef
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 Tbsp. grated Pecorino cheese
- olive oil cooking spray
- 32 ounce chicken stock
- 4 cups water
- dash of cayenne pepper
- 1 pound cheese tortellini
- 4 to 5 cups fresh baby spinach
- fresh cracked pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a large cooking sheet or Pyrex dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
Add chop meat, breadcrumbs, chopped spinach, garlic powder, salt eggs, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses.
Mix the meat mixture until it's well combined. Using a small espresso spoon to scoop up a small amount and place into the palm of your hand. Shape into a small ball, smaller than a quarter size.
Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. They can be placed close together, but not touching.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until they are light brown and fully cooked.
Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, bring broth and water to a boil. Add cayenne pepper and tortellinis. Cook the tortellini according to the directions of the package, but undercook them 1 minute. Stir in the fresh spinach. Finally, add in the already baked mini spinach meatballs.
Taste the broth, and season with salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.
Ladle into individual soup bowls and serve. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese at the table. Stores leftovers in the refrigerator up to 3 days, or freezer for a future weekday meal.
Yields: 2 quarts, and about 65 mini spinach meatballs