For some people comfort food is macaroni and cheese, for some it’s mom’s homemade lasagna. For me it’s soup. Soup warms me to my very soul. I love the process of making it as much as I love eating it. Although, I think if you have been reading this blog at all, you already know about my extensive love for soup. So today I’m going to tell you about my inspiration for this soup.
I spend a lot of time reading about food…and by a lot I mean an unreal amount of time. Food is a very central part of my life, job, and everything else. Food to me isn’t just something to eat; it is something I love to talk about, something I love to think about, something I love to cook. It is deeply associated with memories in my life, and will be associated with future memories as well. I subscribe to this wonderful (and well known) food magazine called Saveur and this month’s edition, Italian Christmas, included a particularly inspiring story.
It was told from the perspective of a daughter whose father was a second generation immigrant from the former Czechoslovakia. The story gives a beautiful account of her memories of her grandmother’s kitchen, which became her father’s. Her father had been a Korean War veteran, a billionaire, and “now he was who he was: an up-country boy who has found peace in his mother’s kitchen in his mother’s apron”. It was a soulful and touching story about the roots of our lives, and how so many of those memories are associated with food.
I have incredible memories of spending time in the kitchen with my mother, baking cookies and making our special family pasta recipes. I remember eating at the deli around the corner from my dad’s office and tasting real corned beef. I remember traveling to Thailand with my family and seeing and tasting a pomegranate for the first time. Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year because I get to go home and cook with my family. I wish I had even an ounce of the skill the writers Saveur have, and their ability to evoke layers of memories; but for now I will continue to just enjoy reading them.
One of the other articles was about escarole soup. Here is the link, so you can read it yourself. See? Doesn’t it make you want to be in her grandmother’s kitchen? In case you are unfamiliar with Italian wedding soup, this is basically the same thing. One major difference in my recipe- I couldn’t find escarole. Apparently it is extremely difficult to find. I even went to our big huge mega Whole Foods that has every greens variety known to man; but no escarole. So I used kale, I would recommend you do the same. I also made a number of other small changes, but you can consult the recipe in the Saveur link for the original.
Italian Wedding (or Escarole) Soup:
½ lb ground beef
½ lb ground veal
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated romano cheese
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 clove of garlic minced
½ medium yellow onion, minced or grated
2 Tbs freshly chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
1 Tbs. olive oil
8-10 cups chicken stock
1 ½ onions chopped (use the ½ left over from the meatballs)
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 large head of kale, cleaned, stems removed, and cut into 2” pieces
2 eggs beaten
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup pearl or Israeli cous cous
Salt and pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
To make meatballs, add all the ingredients to a bowl and mix with your hands. Form into small meatballs, no large than 1” inch wide. Place all the meatballs on a parchment lined baking sheet while you are making them. Heat up a large cast iron skillet (or other large pan that is good for searing) and cook the meatballs in batches.
Turn at least once while cooking so they will get a sear, it will take about 3-4 minutes per batch. Remove and drain on paper towel while you prepare the soup.
In a large dutch oven (or other soup pot) add the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add the chicken stock and bring to a low boil.
Add the kale (or escarole) and the meatballs. Cook on a low simmer for 20 minutes to let the flavors marry. Add the pasta and cook for about 5 minutes. While the pasta cooks, beat together two eggs along with the parmesan cheese. Remove the soup from the heat and slowly add the egg/cheese mixture while whisking (this is what will cause the egg to thicken the soup, and not turn into scrambled eggs). Season to taste with salt and pepper and optional red pepper flakes.
A few notes:
If you can find escarole, you should use it, and tell me how it is. Apparently it cooks down with an earthy and sweet flavor. Kale was an excellent (and super healthy) alternative, but I think you should use escarole if you can find it.
If veal isn’t your thing, you could use all ground beef or a mixture of beef and pork.
You can use any kind of pasta with this, but it is typically served with a small variety such as ditalini or the pearl cous cous. If you are planning to save this soup, you can cook the pasta separately and add it before serving. However; another pro for the pearl cous cous is that it holds up well to reheating.