Uh-oh, here we go again. Venturing into prime “You don’t know what you’re doing” territory.
The land of “That isn’t the way my grandma did it so it’s wrong.”
Dare I go here yet again? After much ado (and plenty of a-don’t) about flourless chocolate cake; major differences of opinion regarding how many ingredients go into the perfect pie crust; and most recently, controversy surrounding the absolute authentic way to make Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (hint: there’s no cornmeal in the crust. There IS cornmeal in the crust), it’s with great hesitation that I dip my toe into Italian Wedding Soup – figuratively speaking, of course.
I actually like stirring the (soup) pot here on this blog. We all have our favorite comfort foods, and sometimes they’re so dear to our hearts (and clear in our minds) that we can’t see beyond our own memories. We have trouble allowing room in the kitchen for someone else’s family recipe. For someone else’s interpretation of, say, potato pancakes, seen through the lens of a different time, another place.
Bottom line: Diversity is just as much a plus in recipe-land as it is in society. We can share different versions of the same dish and learn from one another, if we choose to. And if not, we can agree to disagree agreeably – which is one of the tenets we work by here at King Arthur Flour.
So, back to Italian Wedding Soup. My decidedly non-Italian, Irish-Norwegian-New England interpretation of this soup is based on much Googling, and lots of thumbing through Italian cookbooks.
I took a little bit of this, a pinch of that, mixed it all together, and came up with a recipe that’s tasty, soul-satisfying on a cold winter day, and receives the stamp of approval from my 100% Italian mother-in-law. And my 50% Italian husband.
Ditto the Scali Rolls.
Come share my version of two Italian-American classics. And I look forward to lots of friendly disagreement here. Since I CAN stand the heat, I guess I’m entitled to remain in the kitchen!
To make the starter, mix the following:
See how dough-like this is? It’s not your usual soft/liquid starter.
Cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight
Next day, it should have spread out a bit; you’ll see some bubbles.
Combine the starter with the following:
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons Baker’s Special dry milk or nonfat dry milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2/3 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
Mix the dough — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — till it’s cohesive.
Then knead to make a soft, smooth dough. This will take about 7 minutes at medium speed in a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook.
This is what’s meant by “smooth dough” – an old-time expression says “smooth as a baby’s bottom.” If you’re a mom or dad, you get the picture.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measure; cover, and let it rise for about 90 minutes.
The dough will just about double in bulk.
Next, we’re going to divide the dough into six pieces. You can eyeball it; or for really pretty rolls, use a scale to divide the dough. 625g divided by six = about 104g each.
There we are – six even pieces.
Roll each piece into a thin rope about 28″ long. As you can see, I’ll need to roll a few of these a bit longer. It helps to give them a short rest (10 minutes or so), if they start to fight back as you roll.
Whisk together 1 large egg white and 1 tablespoon water. Brush each rope with the the egg white/water; this will be the “glue” to hold the seeds.
Sprinkle heavily with 1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds, rolling the ropes gently in the seeds to pick up as many as possible.
Starting with 3 ropes, grab one end of each, and squeeze together firmly. Braid the ropes, tucking the ends under to make a neat braided loaf.
Repeat with the remaining 3 ropes; you’ll now have two long braids.
How long? About 18” each.
Cut each braid into six 3″ rolls.
Squeeze the cut ends together to seal, and tuck them under.
I wanted to make one long, skinny loaf, too; so I left one of the braids intact.
Place the rolls (or loaf and rolls) on a large, parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheet. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow to rise till very puffy, about 90 minutes.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Here they are after 90 minutes, nicely risen.
Bake for about 25 to 35 minutes, till they’re a deep golden brown. The rolls will need to bake for about 25 minutes; the loaf may need to go a bit longer.
Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack.
Admire your handiwork.
And now, sports fans – let’s make soup.
First, the meatballs. Combine the following in a mixing bowl:
2 hamburger rolls or 4 slices white bread, torn into pieces
2/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Stir to combine. Allow the mixture to sit for about 10 minutes, till softened.
Add the following:
1 medium onion, grated or very finely diced
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried parsley
Stir to combine.
Add 1 1/2 pounds ground beef or “meatloaf mix” (a mixture of beef and pork). Mix gently, just till combined.
Shape tiny meatballs, (about 1” diameter or less). Using a level teaspoon scoop (which volume-wise is actually 2 level measuring teaspoons) makes about the right size. Place the meatballs on a parchment-lined or lightly greased cookie sheet, and refrigerate them while you prepare the soup.
Alternatively, for a lower-fat soup, simmer the meatballs in water till they’re cooked through; then drain, and refrigerate. Or bake them in the oven (thanks for the suggestion, Julia T.). This rids the meatballs of much of their excess fat.
LOTS of tiny meatballs!
Here’s another, much faster, much easier, reduced-fat way to make meatballs. Er, “meat squares.”
Flatten the meat mixture between two pieces of parchment. Remove the top piece of parchment, and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 30 minutes, till the meat is cooked through.
Remove from the oven.
Cut into tiny squares with a rolling pizza wheel or sharp knife.
Put in a bowl, and refrigerate till you’re ready to add to the soup.
I used this method for a church supper last night. Believe me, no one said a word about the “meatballs” being square, rather than round. They were too busy scraping every last bit of soup out of the pot!
Prepare the following:
2 medium onions, diced; about 2 cups
2 cups finely diced carrots, about 3 large carrots
Get out a large pot, at least 6-quart capacity. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into the bottom of the pot, and add the onions and carrots. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
Add 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced; cook for another couple of minutes.
Next, add the following:
4 to 4 1/2 quarts (16 to 18 cups) chicken broth, homemade or purchased
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs or 3/4 teaspoon each dried oregano and dried basil
Bring to a simmer, and cook gently for 10 minutes.
Note: If you’re purchasing cans of broth, the big can is 48 ounces. 16 cups is 128 ounces; 18 cups is 144 ounces. So three big cans (3 x 48 = 144) should do it.
Add a 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, total; the soup will take awhile to come back to a simmer, due to the frozen spinach.
Help it along by breaking it up with a spoon or fork as it cooks.
Next, gently drop the meatballs into the soup. Simmer for 30 minutes or so.
Stir in 1 pound (about 2 2/3 cups) uncooked orzo, ditalini, or other small, roundish pasta. I’ve used orzo here. Cook till the pasta is al dente. For orzo, this will take about 8 minutes or so.
Add salt and pepper to taste; using reduced-salt canned chicken broth, I added 1 teaspoon salt; and 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper.
Serve the soup garnished with freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese. And those crusty rolls, of course.
You can see how thick the soup is in this picture. I ended up thinning it down with another few cups of broth. The recipe, as written above, reflects that. Still, you may want your soup even thinner. So once the pasta is fully cooked – and understanding it’ll thicken further as it stands – be ready to add extra broth as needed.
Clearly, this makes a lot of soup. Can you cut the recipe down? Of course; just reduce everything proportionally. Don’t bother to cut back the spinach, though; you can still use a 10-ounce box. And you might want to make just as many meatballs, saving half for your next spaghetti feed… This is (more or less) my Italian grandma-in-law’s meatball recipe, and boy, is it good!