Served at every Italian-American wedding across the nation, this soup is so delicious that no self-respecting Italian-American couple would ever think of getting married without it.
Okay, that’s not true.
In fact, this soup has absolutely nothing to do with weddings.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s superbly delicious. Nor should you let it stop you from serving it at your wedding should you feel so inclined.
So then why the name “Italian Wedding Soup”?
The term “wedding” soup comes from the Italian minestra maritata, “married soup”, referring to the flavor produced by the “marriage” or perfect blending of greens, broth and meat.
This soup enjoys a long, rich heritage, though very different from the Italian Wedding Soup we know today. Its origin isn’t clear but it’s thought to date back to ancient Rome and then made its way to Toledo Spain, a gorgeous city we visited last Summer (image below). The soup’s Spanish ancestor was a heavier one, incorporating a variety of meats that were slow-simmered with vegetables and without the addition of pasta (an expensive commodity at that time). From Spain the soup was introduced to Naples, Italy (second image below) where they too used any combination of meats such as beef, pork, ribs, sausages and ham hocks to create a rich meat broth The Neapolitans made it their own with the addition of ancient greens like torzella, escarole, puntarelle, chicory and savoy cabbage. Just as it was in Spain, the minestra maritata was a peasant soup using whatever leftover meats and wild greens they had on hand.
The soup eventually made its way from Naples to America via Italian immigrants who replaced the long-simmered cuts of meat with meatballs and used onions, generally one type of leafy green vegetable and added pasta. And it came to be called “Italian Wedding Soup.”
The earliest known reference to “wedding soup” in American print is an article in the Los Angeles Times from 1925 written by Joseph Musso of Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, The Musso & Frank Grill, wherein he described the process of making Wedding Soup. It has since remained perhaps the most iconic Italian-American soup and can be found in nearly every Italian restaurant across the nation.
This soup’s Italian and Spanish ancestors used the process of low- and slow-simmering meats to achieve a great broth as the base of their soups. In this Italian-American version of using meatballs that step isn’t possible. You would have to make a separate batch of broth using whole bone-in chicken and vegetables. And using high quality broth is really the key to a great Italian Wedding Soup.
I definitely don’t always have several hours to make my own chicken broth every time I need it as the base for a soup. And one of things I love about Italian Wedding Soup, besides its exquisite flavor, is how otherwise wonderfully quick and easy it is to make. So for this special soup I’m enlisting the help of the world’s best store-bought broth: Aneto.
Why is it the world’s best? Because Aneto is the world’s only broth manufacturer that makes broth the way you make it at home: Using fresh vegetables, whole chicken – nothing else – and then slow-simmering it for hours for maximum flavor and nutrition.
Aneto is simply THE most exceptional broth manufacturer in the world and is a company our family feels especially passionate about. Based outside of Barcelona Spain, we toured their factory last year and it was one of the most inspiring experiences we’ve ever had.
Really, you have to see it for yourself to understand why:
Aneto products are available in stores across the United States. Click here for a store locator.
This Italian Wedding Soup has become our 4 year old daughter’s favorite soup and she’s been requesting it nearly every day for the last two weeks! Fortunately it’s so quick to whip up. I’ve been making some meatballs in advance to keep on hand – I freeze them raw on a cookie sheet and them place them in a ziplock bag in the freezer and thaw before using – and from there soup only takes about 15 minutes to get on the table.
Nutritious and delicious, simple and quick to make, you’ll understand why this has been an Italian-American classic for so many generations!
Let’s get started!
Place all of the meatball ingredients in a bowl or food processor and knead with your hands or pulse with the food processor until thoroughly combined.
Form the mixture into tiny meatballs, about 1/2 inch in diameter and place them on a platter or cookie sheet. Wrap them with plastic wrap and refrigerate them until ready to use.
In a medium stock pot, heat the oil and cook the onions and garlic until translucent, 4-5 minutes.
Add the chicken stock and bring it to a boil.
- For the Meatballs:
- 1 pound ground meat (beef, pork, chicken or turkey or a combination of them combined with some sausage)
- ¼ cup plain breadcrumbs (preferably fresh)
- 1 large egg
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the Soup:
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 8 cups homemade chicken broth or Aneto 100% Natural Chicken Broth (quality broth makes all the difference)
- 1 cup acini di pepe or other tiny pasta
- 1 large bunch leafy greens, roughly chopped (e.g., kale, escarole, curly endive, spinach)
- Freshly grated Parmesan for serving
- Red pepper flakes for serving (optional)
- Place all of the meatball ingredients in a bowl or food processor and knead with your hands or pulse with the food processor until thoroughly combined.
- Form the mixture into tiny meatballs, about ½ inch in diameter and place them on a platter or cookie sheet. Wrap them with plastic wrap and refrigerate them until ready to use.
- In a medium stock pot, heat the oil and cook the onions and garlic until translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring it to a boil.
- Gently drop the meatballs into the soup followed by the pasta. Let the meatballs and pasta simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Add the leafy greens and simmer for 3-4 minutes or until wilted.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Dish up the soup and serve sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and some red pepper flakes for a bit of heat.
- Optional (a tradition in some circles): At very end, once the greens are wilted, whisk 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese together with 1 large egg. Stir the broth to get it moving and gradually drizzle the egg mixture into the broth, stirring it gently with a fork to form thin stands of egg.
*The longer the soup sits the more liquid the pasta will absorb, so if eating leftovers add more chicken broth.