I have a confession to make, as a child I thought canned soups were the ultimate. Not all soups mind you, there were a few favorites and Progresso Chickarina was definitely at the top of the list. Chickarina soup, with those tasty tiny meatballs was so different than any homemade soup I was accustomed to. I mean tiny meatballs in chicken broth with diced carrots, celery and pasta pearls – come on, it had to be good. Although prepared foods were certainly the rage in many households at the time, my Mom never relied on them. For some reason Progresso products were viewed as being acceptable; it wasn’t difficult to understand that the name, Progresso was an Italian name representing something familiar.
More recently food culture has discovered Italian Wedding Soup; this immediately brought back memories of my much loved Chickarina Soup. Also with tiny meatballs, this soup was a meal in and of itself. Unlike Chickarina soup, Italian Wedding soup included hearty greens, generally spinach or escarole added at the last moment of the cooking process.
“Wedding Soup” may seem to imply that the soup was customary at Italian weddings; couldn’t be further from the truth. The name actually is derived from the phrase “minestra maritata” translates as “married soup”, referring to the fact that this is a bringing together of a variety of available greens and meats. The hearty soup, an outgrowth of cucina povera, is typical of the regions of Lazio and Campania.
With this recipe, I have done a little matchmaking of my own combining what I consider be the best of both soups. In selecting a green I prefer the light, fresh taste of escarole to other stronger tasting greens which might muddy the broth and overpower the soup. Basically this soup can be prepared in two parts; first the meatballs which are oven roasted rather than fried creating tiny brown nuggets of deliciousness – try not to eat too many, you need these for the soup. The meatballs can be prepared a day in advance, cooled and refrigerated. Naturally homemade stock is best, but please don’t let that limit you; there are many high quality chicken stocks on the market. Once you have the meatballs prepared, the veggies cleaned and chopped, you are ready to go. This minestra is definitely a gratifying one bowl dinner.
- ¾ pound of ground chicken thigh meat
- ¾ pound of chicken sausage meat, mildly seasoned
- 2 slices of whole wheat bread, lightly toasted
- ½ cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
- 3 Tbs minced garlic
- ½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
- 1 large egg
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 10 cups of light chicken broth
- 1 cup of minced yellow onion
- 4 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into ½ chunks
- 2 stalks of celery with leaves, cut into ½ in chunks and leaves coarsely chopped
- 2 small or 1 large fresh bay leaf
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup of anci pepe pasta
- 2 heads of escarole, about 1½ pound - cleaning instructions to follow
- Grate Parmigiano for serving
- Break the toasted and cooled bread into pieces and process using a food processor to make breadcrumbs.
- Combine the ground chicken thigh meat, chicken sausage meat, whole wheat breadcrumbs, pecorino romano, minced garlic, chopped parsley leaves, egg and a twist of freshly ground black pepper in a medium sized bowl. Using clean hands, begin to lightly combine the ingredients until the mixture is uniform with no large traces of any single ingredient is apparent. Cover the top with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight. This will allow the flavors to come together will resulting in a tastier meatball.
- Preheat the oven to 375º and line two baking sheets with lightly oiled parchment paper.
- Having the mixture cold will facilitate forming the polpette. Using your hand, form tiny meatballs about ¾ of an inch in diameter, you should have between 90 and 95 polpettine. It can be helpful to have a small bowl of cold water available to wet your hands before rolling to make this even easier. Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheets and place in the oven for 12 minutes. At this point the bottom of the polpette should be brown. Turn each of the tiny meatballs using a table fork and cook for an additional 12 minutes or until brown on all sides. The browning of the meatballs will add flavor to them and the soup in general. Remove from the oven, using a fork to dislodge the meatballs from the parchment, allow to cool. Once cool either proceed with the recipe or refrigerate in a covered contained.
- Soak the two heads of escarole in a large bowl of cold water for 20 minutes, refreshing the water once or twice. Drain and begin to pull the individual leaves away from the escarole and place in the large bowl, filled with cold water. Soak for 20 minutes, rinse well in a strainer.
- Stack about 4 or 5 escarole leaves at a time, slice lengthwise and then crosswise in ¾ inch strips, continue until all of the escarole has been prepared. Lay the escarole on a clean cotton dishtowel, roll up the towel to absorb as much residual water as possible. Set aside.
- Heat the ⅓ cup of olive oil over medium high heat in a large saucepan, once the oil is hot add the onions and bay leaves, reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes or until softened.
- Add the carrots and celery, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, stirring until softened slightly.
- Pour the chicken stock into the saucepan and bring to a simmer, add the polpette and simmer lightly for 5 minutes. Bring the soup to a boil, add the anci peppe, stir well and simmer for about 7 minutes.
- Add the escarole, stir well. The escarole will cook in about one minute. The soup is now ready to serve with grated parmigiano.