Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Italian Wedding Soup | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Food with Love”

The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary with a special dinner and a trip down memory lane.

The Menu: Italian Wedding Soup, Brownie Pudding, Campari Orange Spritzer

0:42 – Ina is full of plans for her 40th wedding anniversary with Jeffrey, who true to form is stuck at work so it’s up to Ina to get the preparations under way.

1:18 – First up: Brownie Pudding. Brownies have a special place in the Garten relationship since Ina used to send them to Jeffrey at college.

2:33 – The recipe comes from Ina’s friend Anna Pump who owns a store called Loaves and Fishes, and wrote a cookbook, which I will now add to my Christmas list…

3:25 – Pro Tip #1: a tablespoon of framboise in the pudding mixture will add a subtle depth of unexpected flavor.

4:12 – Ina has apparently been getting some flack for her butter usage, but she is firmly pro-butter maintaining that “anyone who tries to make brownies without butter should be arrested!”

5:40 – Interesting, this is a pudding baked in a water bath so that it cooks very slowly and Ina says it can be made ahead of time.

6:06 – Oooh, Jeffrey has claimed he has to work but it’s all a cover for a romantic mission to locate a tent similar to the one they had on their camping trip through France. That is 1,000 brownie points (pun intended) in the making!

7:19 – We’re back with Ina as she talks us through the different liqueurs she uses in cooking and baking – framboise, coffee, cognac, it’s all quite boozy.

9:37 – On to the Italian Wedding Soup which Ina is making with chicken instead of beef or another red meat.

10:28 – A fun fact and Pro Tip #2: Using fresh bread crumbs will make the meatballs softer than dry bread crumbs.

11:51 – Ina is seasoning the meatballs with parsley, garlic and a combination of both parmesan and pecorino cheese. I’m surprised that she’s not doing her usual technique of grinding the cheese in the food processor.

12:14 – Can I just say how excited I am that these meatballs are baked not cooked in oil on the stovetop?!

13:39 – A quick check in with Jeffrey as he seeks out the tent. Alas, it won’t be very much like the original orange pup tent, but he’s assured by the proprietor that even a child could set it up. Sold.

14:43 – Moving on with the Italian Wedding Soup, it’s time to prep the vegetables to season the stock. Ina says as she chops that she doesn’t know the secret to a good marriage – she and Jeffrey just want each other to be happy. Simple.

18:56 – Vegetables are softened and now it’s time to add the chicken stock and a little white wine.

19:32 – A few more words of reflection from Ina – she says Jeffrey is the smartest person she knows, but that she balances him out by being “the practical one.”

20:07 – Well, now the absent minded professor is out in the backyard with the tent. Here goes nothing… He’s doing an excellent job of getting tangled up in the nylon shell. It’s close enough and that he better get back to his desk before Ina checks on him.

21:25 – Now for some cocktails. Campari Orange Spritzer with fresh orange juice and bitter liquor. Ina is going to bring one to Jeffrey and I bet after his struggles with the tent he could use a drink…

22:40 – He makes it just in time, she comes in the library just as he sits down at his desk. A split second later and he’d be caught!

23:58 – With the cocktails is a DVD trip down memory lane compliments of the production team splicing together some I+J greatest hits from past shows. They are just so darn cute!

26:16 – Back to put the finishing touches on the Italian Wedding Soup, meatballs are in, now some fresh herbs.

27:21 – I love with idea of wilting baby spinach into the soup at the last minute, I bet that tastes really fresh and wonderful. Ina isn’t kidding about this being a soup worthy of the main course.

28:35 – Ina says making Italian Wedding Soup is “corny,” but I think it’s so sweet. Embrace the corn! Brownie Pudding with ice cream is next and Jeffrey suggests having dessert outside… It’s surprise time….

29:48 – Ina can’t believe that Jeffrey put the tent together and they decide they should climb in and have dessert there. So much giggling and then the clincher: “If this tent be a rocking, don’t come a knocking.”

Final Thoughts:
I should try Campari sometime, it seems like it would be right up my alley.

I love Ina’s take on Italian Wedding Soup – it seems simultaneously more satisfying and lighter than the traditional version.

Oh Ina and Jeffrey, the two of them are just too much!

Italian Wedding Soup  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Italian Wedding Soup | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I’ve made meatballs and I’ve made chicken soup, but never together and I was really curious to see how the process would work. Also, Italian Wedding Soup sounded like the perfect weekend dinner, so there’s that. Here’s what I learned…

Meatball Ingredients – I was a little worried about finding both ground chicken and chicken sausage and decided that pork sausage would be my back up plan, but thankfully both seem readily available in my grocery store. Bread crumbs are a different story – some stores sell bags of fresh bread crumbs in the bakery section but if those aren’t available and you don’t have a food processor, then use dried plain crumbs and add a bit more milk, starting with a tablespoon or two.

Meatball Mixing – Like with a cake, I’d recommend mixing the dry ingredients - breadcrumbs, cheese, and seasonings - together before adding the wet ingredients – ground meat, milk, and egg. I find that the mixture comes together more evenly and helps prevent over mixing. A fork is definitely the way to go to keep the meatballs light; a dense meatball is no one’s friend.

Portioning – Forty meatballs in 10 cups of broth, plus vegetables and pasta seemed like a lot especially because pasta tends to absorb a lot of moisture. So, I halved the meatball ingredients, but kept everything else in the recipe as written. When measured with a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop I yielded 24 meatballs which was perfect.

Vegetable Prep – Completely up to your preference, but I cut my vegetables slightly larger than called for in the recipe because I like them to keep their shape and still be firm after cooking. I also sorted through the fresh baby spinach and trimming off any slightly browning or particularly long stems. Much nicer to eat that way!

Pasta – I subbed Ditalini because it was the smallest pasta I could find. The only note here is to make sure to read the package directions for cooking time, especially if you’re using something else.

Italian Wedding Soup  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Italian Wedding Soup | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes and no. It depends on whether you plan to make your own bread crumbs, if so then you’ll also need a mini food processor. At the minimum, I needed a large mixing bowl, two rimmed baking sheets, and a 5.5 qt French oven. I also used a medium cutting board, chef’s knife, tongs, a microplane grater, and a wooden spatula along with measuring cups and parchment paper. A 1 tablespoon cookie scoop isn’t essential, but will make portioning the meatballs much easier.

The Verdict:
Featuring meatballs and pasta I expected Italian Wedding Soup to fall firmly in the category of comfort food, and was surprised to discover that the chicken broth and vegetables actually make this soup quite fresh. The meatballs set the tone balancing depth of flavor from the sausage and cheeses against lean chicken, baking them instead of sautéing in oil – the results are light but satisfying. This soup is also one that can be made in stages as needed. I prepared everything up to the point of cooking the pasta one day, stored the meatballs and soup separately and finished assembling just before we were ready to eat. Perfect.

Italian Wedding Soup  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Italian Wedding Soup | Image: Laura Messersmith