Italian Wedding Soup

One of my favorite things about being a part of a CSA is how my sense of being a part of a community has really evolved. We were introduced to our CSA by our next door neighbors at the time. They were the pickup site for the CSA, meaning that the farm dropped off all the boxes for the CSA members in our neighborhood at that house for people to claim their shares. A couple of times during the summer, there would be unclaimed boxes– people went on vacation and failed to designate someone to take their share for the week. Our neighbors, whom we barely knew except for a passing hello and smile when we’d happen to be out on the street at the same time, knocked on our kitchen door and asked us if we’d like some free, fresh produce. After that, we were hooked and eagerly accepted a leftover box whenever one should happen to come our way, and when memberships opened up for the following year, we enrolled as soon as we could.

We’ve paid it forward in a sense since then. Whenever we go on vacation during the CSA delivery season, we usually ask among our friends if they would like our share for that week. Some of those friends then signed up with CSAs of their own, and it’s been fun to occasionally talk about ideas for what to do with different kinds of produce. This past Thanksgiving, our friend April very generously asked if we wanted to take her share while she was back home for the holiday. Since April’s CSA delivers through the winter while ours had stopped for the season just a couple weeks before, I was happy to take the share off of her hands. I was already starved for the excitement that the unknown CSA share inspires for cooking and was eager to find out what kind of produce a winter CSA might offer.

Since it was a delivery during the week of Thanksgiving, about half of the share had items that would definitely have a home on a Thanksgiving table (read: squash, carrots, and celery.) But also included was a bunch of small fennel bulbs and a half pound of dry cannellini beans. With cold weather outside and white beans and mire poix ingredients in front of me– soup had to be made.

I can’t recall where exactly it was that I first had Italian wedding soup, but I do remember being intrigued by the tiny meatballs and loving the little pieces of pasta in it. It was so… dainty. I also remember telling John all about this great soup I’d just discovered but it was old hat to John who grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, where everyone (with the exception of John and his family) seems to either be or believe they are Italian American. So I thought I’d try making my own Italian wedding soup with these fresh ingredients.

I combined ground veal and ground pork and tried to make as tiny meatballs as I could. I let these poach in the chicken stock rather than trying to cook them in an oven or in a skillet ahead of time, and this did wonders! The meatballs stayed soft and tender and the fat rendered enriched the flavor and thickened the stock. Adding fennel to the mire poix of carrots, celery and onion, simultaneously added to the sweetness of those vegetables while imparting a faint hint of licorice which enhanced the vegetal flavors in the soup. My soup wasn’t as dainty as the soup I remember, but who needs dainty when you can have hearty and comforting instead?

  • 1/2 lb dried cannellini beans
  • 1/2 lb ground veal
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1.5 large sweet onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced and divided
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp dried oregano, plus 1 tbsp
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, chopped
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup dried orzo pasta
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Place the cannellini beans in a medium bowl and add enough water to cover the beans by an inch or more.* Let beans soak overnight.

Grate half of a large onion into a large bowl, using the large holes of a cheese grater. Add one minced garlic clove, the ground pork and ground veal. Using your hands, mix in the bread crumbs, parmesan, oregano, red pepper flakes, beaten egg, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper until just combined. Roll about 1 tsp of the mixture at a time into meatballs and set on a plate until ready to use.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Chop the remaining onion and add that along with the carrots, celery, and fennel to the pot. Saute for 5-7 minutes or until onion is softened. Add in the remaining 2 cloves of minced garlic. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so that the stock simmers and add in the meatballs. Continue simmering for 15-20 minutes. Raise the heat again to a gentle boil and add the pasta. Cook until pasta is tender, about another 8-10 minutes. Add the spinach and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

CSA Count: 6

Cannellini beans, carrots, celery, fennel, onion, garlic

*I haven’t tried this myself, but since making this soup, I’ve read a couple recipes in Cooks Illustrated that recommends adding a couple tablespoons of salt to water when soaking beans. The idea works similar to brining meat and supposedly helps boost the flavors of the beans. I might try doing this the next time I work with dry beans, but, well, I rarely use dry beans, being a fan of the convenience of canned ones.


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