While making this recipe and preparing to share it with you, I decided to do a little research to find out the history behind the origin of a soup I grew up eating all the time and that is quite popular in Italian restaurants: Italian Wedding Soup. Growing up in a family with very Sicilian roots, we often ate this at my grandmother’s house who made it in huge pots to feed a family of over 30 people arriving every Sunday. My mom learned to make it, too and her style was a little different, making it with larger meatballs that were pan-fried but the result was just as delicious. The funny thing is that I don’t ever recall eating this soup at an actual Italian wedding. Not once. It wasn’t even on the menu at my own wedding.
The origins of the recipe, translated from the Italian “minestra maritata” which means “married soup” refers to the fact that the meat and greens and vegetables go so well together (some people use cabbage or kale or other greens instead of the spinach I use in this recipe and some of the meat could be sausage instead of meatballs). It’s not really a great translation, or at least one that describes something you’re supposed to see at Italian weddings. Whew…good thing.
So, you can make this at home without much of a problem. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it has meat and chicken, neither for the flavor profile mixing the two or for the fact that you have to prepare two types of meats at one time. Once I gathered all of the ingredients, I realized that it really is something you can pull together with such humble ingredients: meat, chicken, a little bit of greens/veggies, a little bit of pasta and lots of chicken broth. If we lived off of our homestead or on a farm, I’d probably be able to make this quite easily and quite often- and the meat lovers wouldn’t complain about having soup again, since that always makes my husband think he’s not going to eat very much more than water.
I also had a couple more motives for making this soup at this particular time. I was craving something that would be filling for dinner so that I wouldn’t have to cook more than just this, for one thing, but I’m also feeling quite under the weather. I can’t stop sneezing and have the common head cold. Remember the saying, “Starve a fever, feed a cold” ? Well, when you’re the one cooking, you need to make it easy on yourself, but feed yourself well at the same time, too. This is basically a heartier version of the common chicken noodle soup.
My other motive is that I have been experiencing a very bad toothache, which is odd for me because I haven’t had a cavity in years and I don’t eat processed foods or what I consider to be “junk” food. I wanted to treat it naturally so I decided to look into how I could do that with a natural ingredient but instead found that it could be healed with my diet. I read many articles on this topic over the years (particularly from sources found on the Weston A. Price Foundation website) and this one by the Nourishing Gourmet really helped me to see that I needed to incorporate more broth into my diet. I’m not telling anyone else to do this, but it’s just something I’ve decided to try and I’m willing to see if it works before heading to the dentist. Don’t worry, if it gets bad enough I’ll go in…I’m definitely not a glutton for punishment.
To get started you’ll need to get out all your ingredients and have everything cut once you’re ready to start cooking. Have the whole chicken cut up into 8 parts. If you work with a whole chicken it’s just going to be messy when it’s time to pull it out, let it cool and then pull it apart. Trust me. I’ve had that experience before.
In a large Dutch oven, sauté the first three ingredients in olive oil.
Add the chicken before the onions and garlic have time to brown- once the garlic browns it starts to burn so you want to get the chicken in before then.
Brown it on both sides, about 5-7 minutes each side.
Flip and do the same thing again.
Add one box of chicken broth. I use the Saffron Road Traditional Chicken Broth because it has just the right flavor profile for this soup.
Then add another box. Why, you ask? Because it makes this soup super rich and full of nutrients and minerals that are good for you. You will taste a big difference if you only use water and the chicken that is in the soup because they’ve made it with lots of chicken bones and vegetables to condense it properly.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cover the pot. Let it cook for about 30 minutes.
Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper before beginning the next step. Make sure there’s enough room in your refrigerator for this, too.
Once combined very well (you can do this with your clean hands), pull out a small chunk of the mixture and make a small ball by rolling the chunk of meat between the palms of both of your hands. I like to do this fast to keep the meat cold enough so that it doesn’t lose shape. Place them on the baking sheet.
Once rolled and placed on the baking sheet, place the sheet in the refrigerator until the chicken has been cooking for 30 minutes. Refrigeration helps to prevent the meatballs from cracking once they go into the hot soup.
Directly from the fridge, add the meatballs one by one to the soup. Do not pour them all in or roll them all in at once- they’ll get smashed and cracked and won’t be meatballs anymore.
Next, add 2 cups of water to the soup. Bring it to a boil then quickly reduce the heat back to medium.
Let this cook for about 1.5 hours. Semi-covered is good.
When it’s done cooking for an hour and a half, remove the chicken. I think tongs work best for this, but the chicken will be so soft that you must still do this with care so that no bones fall back into the soup. Let the chicken cool.
Meanwhile, to the soup add the spinach (I use frozen but you can use fresh) and the orzo or any type of small pasta you’re using. I don’t use the whole bag, just half of it. You could even get away with using less but I like a lot of pasta in my soup. Just remember, it plumps up quite a bit when it cools. Some people even skip pasta noodles and add lentils instead.
Once the chicken has cooled, pull it apart off the bone into fairly nice size chunks. Add it to the soup and mix it all in.
Cover and let it warm back up. It’ll be ready to serve shortly.
After a few minutes, it’ll look like this:
In our family, it can’t be served without a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, but that last detail is up to you.
If you refrigerate it, just remember that the noodles will plump up quite a bit so you may want to add more chicken broth or water before heating it up again.
Bismillah and Buon Appetito a tutti!
Disclaimer: this information is not intended as medical advice. The information presented on this website is not intended to take the place of your personal physician’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Discuss this information with your own physician or healthcare provider to determine what is right for you.
- Ingredients for the Soup Base
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 carrots, diced (1 cup)
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 whole chicken, cut up into 8 parts
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- 10 cups chicken broth (2 whole cartons of Saffron Road’s Traditional Chicken Broth)
- 2 cups water
- 4 cups frozen or fresh spinach
- 1/2 pound orzo or small pasta noodles
- Ingredients for the Meatballs
- 1 pound ground beef (about 2 cups)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs, finely processed
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 1 egg
- Pinch salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
- Small pinch freshly ground black pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon)
- Prepare all the ingredients before cooking by chopping them ahead of time, according to recipe instructions.
- In a large Dutch oven, sauté the chopped garlic, onion and carrots in olive oil for about 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the chicken before the onions and garlic have time to brown. Brown the chicken on both sides, about 5-7 minutes per side. Flip and repeat.
- Add 10 cups of chicken broth. I use two 32-ounce boxes of the Saffron Road Traditional Chicken Broth.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cover the pot. Let it cook for about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper before beginning the next step. Make sure there's enough room in your refrigerator for this, too.
- Prepare the meatballs by placing all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the meat, parsley, bread crumbs, egg, and Parmesan cheese with your hands.
- Pull out a small chunk of the mixture and make a small ball by rolling the chunk of meat between the palms of both of your hands. Do this fast to keep the meat cold enough so that it doesn't lose shape. Place each one on the baking sheet.
- Place the sheet in the refrigerator until the chicken has been cooking for 30 minutes. Refrigeration helps to prevent the meatballs from cracking once they go into the hot soup.
- Directly from the fridge, add the meatballs one by one to the soup.
- Next, add 2 cups of water to the soup. Bring it to a boil then quickly reduce the heat back to medium.
- Let this cook for about 1.5 hours, semi-covered.
- Remove the chicken gently by using tongs or a large slotted spoon. Let the chicken cool.
- While the chicken cools, add the spinach to the soup and then the orzo or any type of small pasta you're using.
- Once the chicken has cooled, pull the meat off the bone into fairly nice size chunks. Add it to the soup and mix it all in.
- Cover and let the soup warm up again over medium heat for several minutes.
- Once you’re ready to serve, ladle into soup bowls with a drizzle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
- If you refrigerate the soup, just remember that the noodles will plump up quite a bit so you may want to add more chicken broth or water before heating it up again.