Sunday, November 6, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup

Fall has now turned to winter, and the snow flakes have transformed the landscape once again.  Milo the wonder pup is thrilled- snow chasing is his favorite sport of all time.  (What, it's not a sport?  Don't tell him, he thinks he's in training.)

I love the fresh food of spring and summer, but there's something so deeply satisfying about the smells that come out of a winter kitchen.  Warm, hearty dishes designed to warm the soul when it's, oh, about 8 degrees outside.  Which it will be...very soon.

I've mentioned this before, but if my job in life was to follow a recipe down to the last teaspoon I'd be living out on the streets.  It is not uncommon for friends to come over and see three seperate cookbooks opened up to a clam chowder recipe (yeah, that happened).  Usually, when I want to see how a singular recipe actually turns out without modifying it, I make a phone call to my sister Holly.  She'll actually follow a recipe the first time.  Plus, we both have the cooking gene, we have similar styles of cooking (transl: each of us owns all of Ina Garten's cookbooks), and we look an awful lot alike.  No, that last characteristic doesn't really help us in the kitchen, but it is fun to tell people about how my brother-in-law Sam thought we were the same person roaming the halls at Willamette Law School for almost an entire school year.  (Yeah, that happened too.)

A few years ago I made my first batch of homemade chicken stock.  I was completely pleased with myself.  After refrigerating it, skimming the fat, and pouring the stock into individual containers for freezing, I what?  I called Holly, who told me to try this soup from our girl Ina.  Holy moly, after that I wanted to dedicate my homemade stock solely to this dish.  This is a delicious Italian-American soup which I doubt is served at Italian weddings- I've heard that the "wedding" part of this dish actually refers to the wonderful marriage between meat and vegetables.  In that case, "I do."

 True to form, this is my own version of Ina's terrific recipe.  I think my changes simplify the soup without sacrificing any flavor.  First, you start with the meatballs.  Usually Italian Wedding Soup calls for beef meatballs, but Ina uses chicken and I love the flavor.  Like homemade chicken noodle soup with the volume turned up. 

The original recipe uses a mix of ground chicken and ground chicken sausage.  I think that requires opening too many different packages, so I just use chicken sausage and they're delish.  (In fact, these meatballs are so good on their own you could use this as appetizers for your next holiday party served with a side of marinara.) In a pinch, I've used turkey sausage.  But lately chicken sausage has been easier to come by so I find I don't need to substitute as often.  For the meatballs, the food processor is a cook's best friend.  I whir up the Parmesan and the bread crumbs (any white bread will do, and even wheat if it's all you have, but I used the artisan white loaf from my friend Janis at Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop- my favorite bread ever!) in the food processor, easy peasy.

Great tip: "grate" Parmesan in the food processor.  Just throw chunks of cheese in and let 'er rip.

If you use store-bought breadcrumbs, you may need to add a little more milk to the meatball mixture because it might be a little dry.  After all the meatball ingredients are mixed, drop them by the rounded spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet- it makes roughly 35 meatballs. 

Baked meatballs.  These are tasty, tasty balls. 
While the meatballs are baking, start the soup by sauteing the onion, celery, and carrots in a little olive oil.  Once they're soft, add the stock and wine and bring it to a boil.  Turn the soup down to a simmer and add the pasta.  I like using little ABC's or stars.

Cook the pasta in the simmering water for about 8 minutes, or until the pasta is tender.  Then add the chopped dill, kale or spinach, and the meatballs. 

Cook for another minute, and taste for salt & pepper.  Ladle the delicious soup into bowls and top with a little more grated Parm.  Yummy, yummy, yummy, yummy.

Italian Wedding Soup
(Adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

For the meatballs:
1 lb. chicken sausauge (make sure it's not the already-cooked variety)
2 T. milk
2/3 c. fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 c. grated Parmesan
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. chopped parsley
kosher salt and fresh pepper

For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
10 c. chicken stock (preferably homemade- see recipe below)
1/2 c. dry white wine (I usually use a savignon blanc or pinot grigio, or whatever is leftover in the fridge)
1 c. small pasta (I usually use stars)
1/2 minced fresh dill
6 oz. kale, ribs removed and chopped, or 12 oz. baby spinach 

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  For the meatballs: combine all ingredients gently with your hands or a fork.  Drop by rounded spoonfuls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  You should have about 35 meatballs, give or take a few.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

3.  For the soup: on medium-low heat, add the olive oil to a large soup pot.  Cook the onions, celery, and carrots for 8-10 minutes or until soft.  Add the stock and wine and bring it to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and add the pasta.  Cook about 8 minutes or until the pasta is tender.  Add the dill, meatballs, and kale or spinach and cook for about one more minute. 

4.  Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a little extra grated Parmesan.  (And the soup tastes even better the next day!)

The Best Homemade Chicken Stock
(Makes about 20 cups of stock)

Don't bother peeling the veggies- just make sure they're well scrubbed!  After making stock a few times, I've found that roasting the veggies makes the most delicious stock.

2- 5 pound chickens
6 carrots, sliced in half lengthwise
4 celery ribs with their tops if they have them, sliced in thirds lengthwise
2 onions, sliced in half
20 sprigs of parsley
20 sprigs of dill
20 sprigs of thyme
2 t. peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 T. salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Remove the giblets from the chicken, but save the neck.  Rinse and pat dry.  Cut the wings off the chickens.

2.  Put the chicken wings, carrots, celery, and onion in a large roasting pan.  Toss with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, a good pinch of salt and peppper.  Toss together, then roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes.

3.  In the meantime, place the chickens in a large stock pot (the biggest one you have).  Fill the pot with 5 1/2 quarts of cold water.  When the veggies are done, add the veggies and the rest of the ingredients to the pot.  (If you have a stock bag, which is similar to cheesecloth, place the veggies, chicken wings, the herbs, and peppercorns in the bag, tie it off, and place it in the pot with the chickens.)

4.  Bring the pot to a boil (this will take a little while).  Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer the pot uncovered for 4 hours.  Remove the scum when it forms.  After about an hour of simmering, remove the chicken and let it cool for a bit.  Remove all of the chicken meat and put the bones back in the pot to simmer (if you don't remove the chicken meat now, it will be the consistency of shoe leather after 4 hours).  Save the meat for another use (I put it in plastic baggies, wait for it to cool in the fridge, and freeze it for later).

5.  Strain the contents into plastic containers and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, skim the fat from the top of the stock, and use the stock within a few days, or freeze.  This is the secret to the best soups you've ever tasted!

Enjoy! xo H

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