Thursday, April 5, 2012

Italian Wedding Soup

 Through the years, I've been to every region in Italy and many of the islands too, but I've never come across this soup at a restaurant or in anyone's home. Italian wedding soup, or "zuppa maritata" in Italian, is really an American-Italian invention. Maybe it's served at some weddings, but more likely, its name derives from the marriage of all the ingredients, creating a hearty and delicious blend. The meatballs add a lot of flavor to the broth, even if, like me, you use ground turkey to make them.

My mom made this soup for holidays when I was growing up, and I know it's not because it was something she remembered from her childhood in Italy. I'm sure she adapted the ways of her new-found country in putting this soup on the table. It will be the first course at my Easter table this year, maybe with those little butterfly pastas you see in the photo, or maybe with tortellini, depending on how the mood strikes me.

It's usually served with escarole, but for the photo above I used some of those wild greens I've been foraging in the fields lately. Spinach or swiss chard or kale would work well here too. Sometimes a raw egg is dropped in the soup too, making it a "stracciatella" wedding soup. I prefer to keep things simple, since the soup has enough going on for it without the egg.

You can make the meatballs ahead of time and freeze them, as I did. I used my basic meatball mix but with turkey instead of the traditional veal, pork and beef mixture. I made some large meatballs to throw into spaghetti sauce, but kept some meat aside and also made 50 little meatballs for the soup. I broiled them rather than fried them, to keep things healthier and give them some color, then put them on a cookie sheet and placed the whole thing in the freezer until the meatballs were frozen solid. Once frozen, I popped them into a plastic bag or container and put them back into the freezer.

I made my chicken soup ahead of time too, and froze that separately. Before you're ready to serve, defrost the soup, then heat on the stove. You can add the meatballs straight from the freezer and let them simmer with the broth for 15 minutes or so until they're heated through. Add the chopped up greens and whatever pasta you like and cook until the pasta is done. Serve in bowls with parmesan cheese on the side. Wine optional.

Italian Wedding Soup

Printable Recipe Here

Chicken soup

1 chicken, 3-4 lbs. or chicken thighs1 onion3 cloves garlic1 carrot1 stalk celerysmall bunch of parsley2 tsps. salt8-10 peppercorns

I like to start out with skinless chicken, so you have less fat in the soup. If you're just using thighs, skin them, but don't use boneless ones, if you can help it. The bones add to the flavor.Place the chicken in a large pot, then add water to cover by at least an inch or two. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that forms on the top, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about two hours.


I used to deep-fry these until several years ago, when I started broiling them to eliminate a lot of the fat. Nobody ever notices any difference and it's a lot healthier.

2 1-2 - 3 pounds of ground meat (I'm more likely to use ground turkey now, but the traditional mix is pork, veal and beef)

about 1/3 of a large loaf of sturdy white Italian bread, preferably a day old

about 1 cup milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2/3 cup onion, finely chopped

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup minced parsley

1 t. salt

1/4 t. black pepper

Trim the crusts off the bread. Dry the crusts in the oven and use to make bread crumbs for another recipe. Tear the bread into chunks and place into a bowl with the milk. Let the bread soak for at least 15 minutes or until it has absorbed the milk and softened. Squeeze as much milk as possible from the bread and discard the milk (or give to the cat). Squish the bread pieces with your fingers into a bowl with the ground meat until there are no big lumps. Add the remaining ingredients and blend well with your hands. Shape into round balls. Place on a baking sheet or broiling pan and broil or bake at high heat (450 - 500), watching carefully so they don't burn. When they have a nice brown crust, turn them over and brown on the other side. 

Bring the chicken soup to a simmer. Add the meatballs and cook for about 15 minutes or until the flavors have had a chance to blend. Add a handful of chopped greens (escarole, spinach, or wild greens) and some pasta (tortellini, small bowties, tubetti or whatever you like.) Cook until the pasta is done and serve with grated parmesan cheese.

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  1. A beautiful soup! So scrumptious looking.

    I love that cat picture...



  2. Would you believe I made a big pot of this last Sunday, with turkey meatballs,( which I really love) orzo and kale. I love how you used your greens in yours. such a comforting soup, with bread and wine, what more could you want! Happy Easter dear friend!

  3. Came home with a nasty cold and am living on chicken soup. You have inspired me to use the chicken broth more wisely! Lidia says that this soup comes from Basilicata although I never recall my grandmother making it.

  4. This is one of my favorite soups. And you make yours look so pretty! Happy Easter!

  5. One of my students (who lives in France) was sick last week and in an email to him I said that if I lived nearby I would bring him a big pot of comforting soup. Today he asked me about it. He was all confused. "Why would you give me soup? I hate soup!" haha Ah how French of him. ;) So I explained that in my culture soup is a comforting, warming, soothing dish. Looking at your Italian wedding soup, I still cannot understand how anyone could "hate soup"!

  6. This is one of my favorite soups, Linda. I also prefer turkey meatballs in it. It's so delicious and comforting.

    I am making lentil/kale/sausage soup as part of a light Easter entree this year. Kale has become my new favorite vegetable.

    Buona Pasqua!

  7. I love wedding soup and it's certainly curious that it's really not very Italian at all! And there are so many variations -- all good. (Like lasagna.) Thanks for sharing this version, Linda. and have a wonderful Easter.

  8. I love this soup and it was interesting hearing the background info. I avoid making it because it's time consuming, but your idea of making the meatballs and freezing them is great, now I have no excuse!

  9. Linda: I am 100% Italian and while I agree in this particular version with meatballs there is no such thing BUT my nonna, in Sorrento, would make a soup called "menesta maretata" (or "minestra maritata", which means "married soup") made by combining different types of greens cooked separately. So there is SOME truth and origin to this soup in the South of Italy! Buona Pasqua to you!!!

  10. Yum, another use for my current favorite veggie - kale. I'm looking forward to trying this, Linda. I hope you have a blessed and Happy Easter, my friend.

  11. You know, this typically Italian-American soup was not part of our family tradition for some reason. But zuppa maritata is a real traditional dish from Naples. (You can check out the recipe in Jeanne Carola Francesconi's book.) No meatballs but different kinds of fresh and cured meats, "married" with various greens. I'm not surprised you never came across it in Italy. Besides being quite local to Naples, it apparently it is not made much anymore—too heavy for modern tastes.

  12. non ho mai mangiato questa zuppa ma ha un aspetto fantastico Linda!I wish you a very happy Easter, tanti auguri cara amica, un abbraccio....

  13. Deliziosa la tua zuppa, splendide le foto. Buona Pasqua a te e a tutta la tua famiglia. Un abbraccio Daniela.

  14. Dear Linda, What a beautiful soup you have made. It is one of my favorites.
    Thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures of Italy.
    Have a Happy Easter my dear. Blessings, Catherine xoxo

  15. A warming and delicious soup!
    Love the cat photo..

  16. Hope you enjoyed your Easter chicken soup. I love recreating dishes from my childhood!

  17. This soup looks delicious. As one who makes chicken soup quite often, I love finding recipes with new (for me) variations. While our broths are quite similar (I use more fresh herbs and parsnips)I have never contemplated mini meatballs. I am now!! Thanks!
    Oh, and what a temptress you are! I have written a memoir and the idea of "spit shining" it with a group of writers in Italy....ahhhh

  18. What a heart warming soup! Love the picture of italy!

  19. So interesting to read that it's an Italian-American recipe! It looks so delicious.

    The closing photo is wonderful!

  20. I think Italian wedding soup is one of the better Italo-american dishes as its reserved...not over the top, comforting and one of my fave soups. More cheese please!