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At first glance, this soup seems as though it would be very bland. But make it as written, and see what you think; we believe the absence of herbs or spices allows the flavor of the vegetables, particularly the escarole, and the meatballs to shine through.
1 head escarole (about 1 1/4 pounds, 10 to 12 cups chopped)
2 quarts (64 ounces) chicken stock (homemade, canned, or bouillon)
1 carrot, thinly sliced (about 4 ounces, 3/4 cup)
1 cup (6 3/4 ounce) uncooked orzo pasta (rice-shaped noodles)
tiny meatballs (recipe follows, or use your own favorite)
Pull the outer leaves off the escarole, and soak them in a basin of cold water for 30 minutes or more. You'll be using these outer leaves in the soup; save the inner leaves for salad. Under cold running water, rinse off the leaves one by one, in order to clean them thoroughly. Bunch the leaves together and slice them coarsely, then chop them into bite-sized pieces, and set them aside.
In a large soup pot, bring the broth to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the sliced carrots. Simmer the soup, uncovered, till the carrots are tender but still a bit crisp.
While the soup is simmering, make the meatballs. Use the recipe below, or your own favorite recipe. Be sure to make the meatballs very tiny; they should be about the size of marbles, or small grapes.
3/4 pound lean chopped beef In a small mixing bowl, stir together all of the ingredients thoroughly, and let stand for about 5 minutes.
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) soft bread crumbs
1/4 cup (1 ounce, 1/2 small) finely minced onion
1 large egg
1 tablespoon (1/4 ounce) grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper
Finishing the Soup: Add the orzo pasta to the soup, return it to a boil, stir, and lower heat, bringing the soup to a simmer. Stir in the chopped escarole.
Shape the meat mixture into tiny meatballs, and drop them carefully into the simmering soup. The soup is ready to serve when the meatballs float to the top of the broth, and the pasta is cooked. Taste the soup for seasoning, adding additional salt or pepper as desired. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Yield: 12 cups soup, 8 servings.
Note: We made the soup as instructed above, then tried it shaping the meatballs and frying them till brown before adding them to the soup. We preferred to fry them first, as the process seemed to enhance their flavor.
Nutrition information per serving (1 1/2 cups soup, 277g): 228 cal, 10g fat, 15g protein, 17g complex carbohydrates, 1g sugar, 3g dietary fiber, 59mg cholesterol, 650mg sodium, 576mg potassium, 561RE vitamin A, 6mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 77mg calcium, 175mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Winter 2002 issue.