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.
Christine Breit says
Chickarina was my all time favorite soup as a child, too, Paula! And it was one of the very few products my mother bought that was canned. I guess the Progresso name made it alright! So funny you had the same experience and yet it makes total sense. I love your recipe, have made minestrone, lentil and escarole and bean so far this winter and this one is next on my list! I cannot wait. Thanks so much for posting this, even though you’re in California, you know how cold our winter is on the East Coast and this is appreciated. xox Chris
What a coincidence Chris! The Progresso name must have carried more weight in our community than I originally imagined. Than you for your kind words, and please let me know how you like this soup, one of our favorites. Stay warm…..xox P
Marianne Bragman says
You are my savior! Yesterday I had lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant in Palm Desert, CA. What did I order?
The very same soup in today’s recipe. I loved it so much, I took home a bowl for later that evening. Getting over
the flu and it wa perfect. I will be making this soup many times over.
Love your recipe’s.
Thank you for you kind words Marianne, I’m glad to hear the the recipe resonated with you. Once you are feeling better, soon I hope, please give this a try. I am certain that you will be glad that you did. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Marianne Bragman says
P.S. to my comment … the restaurant used Pearl Barley instead of pasta. Just an option. Both would be
Pearl barley is a terrific alternative!
I grew up craving Chickarina soup-I just loved it. I’m sure if I had it today I would be less than thrilled! Your rendition is the real thing.
I imagine our fond memories would certainly not match the real thing. This is a family favorite, terrific one dish meal. Thanks for your lovely comment Janie…
Making these meatballs was a real task. All I can say it it was a labor of love! I wound up putting the meatball mix into a plastic bag with a corner cut and pinched off little bits, then gave each lump a quick roll and they were done. That actually worked really well and expedited the meatball making. The meatballs are very yummy. Haven’t made the soup yet – that’ll come in a few days. I’m sure my two boys are going to love this. Many thanks!
Al, what a great idea – I have made them so many times that I go on auto pilot mode. Your method is efficient and reduces the kitchen mess, who doesn’t like that. Looking forward to hearing how your boys like the soup once it is finished. Thanks for following and trying one of my favorite recipes.
They loved it! Tremendous soup. It really is like nothing else (and much, much better than the progresso variety). Around 1/2 the meatballs went into the freezer, and we were still able to have four servings for dinner as well as a couple of after-school soups. Thanks so very much again!
So thrilled to hear Al – a go to favorite for our family. Freezing the meatballs give you another opportunity to prepare a batch of the soup or simply enjoy them on their own. Again, thanks for following and giving this recipe a try.