Friday, December 24, 2010

Minestra Maritata (Italian Wedding Soup)

One of the Christmas Eve traditions in my family is to have Wedding Soup. I love this soup.  A sumptuous chicken broth, punctuated by pieces of tender chicken and browned meatballs, surrounded by escarole.  The recipe has been perfected by my great grandmother, my grandmother and my mother.  Now it is my turn, as the recipe, which has been passed down from my grandmother to my mother, now finds itself in my hands.

I've always wondered about the origin of the name "Wedding Soup."  Was this soup served at weddings in Italy?  Well, from what I've been able to determine, the etymology of the name "Wedding Soup" does not come from the marital bliss of many Italian couples.  Instead, the name originates from what cooks use to say about the ingredients of soup ... vegetables and meat ... se maritato bene or or they have married well.  (On a side note, it is kind of like Clare and me ... vegetarian and carnivore, we have married well.)  In the case of the soup, which is a Neapolitan green and meat soup, cooks would say that the flavors of the greens and the meat married well together as they cooked together in a pot over a wood fire.  

The version typically cooked in kitchens throughout Campana used different cuts of meat, usually from a pig.  In other regions, cooks used meats that were common for them.  For example, in Abruzzo, cooks used meatballs.  And, given the relatives on my mom's side of the family came to this country from two small towns in Abruzzo, Rivisondoli and Roccaraso, meatballs figure prominently in the recipe handed down through the generations in our family. 

MINESTRA MARITATA (Italian Wedding Soup)
Serves many

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken
3 bunches of celery
1 bunch of carrots
2 large onions
1 pound of escarole lettuce
1 pound of ground beef
1 can of low sodium chicken broth
Water
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Wash the chicken thoroughly.  Put the chicken in a kettle and add water until chicken is covered.  If you can't cover the chicken completely, that is okay.  Just place the chicken breast down and bring the water to as high of a level as possible.  Bring the pot to a boil and skim off the top.  Add salt, pepper, the tops of the celery stalks (including leaves), some of the carrots and onion.  Bring to a boil again and continue to simmer, covered, until the chicken is done, which may take two to four hours depending on the size of the chicken.

2.  While the chicken is cooking, wash the escarole lettuce and break it into little pieces.  Begin filling the pot with the lettuce.  When you have put about a third of the lettuce in the pot, add a layer of carrots and celery.  Repeat this twice until the pot is filled about half way.    Add water to cover, about 1/2 to 3/4 full.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and continue to simmer.

3.  Take the ground meat, and add some salt and pepper.  Mix the meat.  Then make small meatballs, making sure each meatball is compacted.  With one and one-half pounds of meat, you should be able to make about one-hundred, forty-four meatballs.  Brown the meatballs in a frying pan just enough to take the pink out of the meat.  Using a slotted spoon, remove them from the frying pan and put them into the pot with the escarole.  Keep the pot simmering, as the water cooks down.

4.  When the chicken is done, pull it out and de-bone it.  Break the chicken into small pieces.  Chop the cooked celery and mash the carrots.  Strain the chicken broth into the kettle.  Add the chicken, celery and carrots.  Also, add the chicken broth.  Stir to mix the ingredients and bring to a boil.

5.  Allow the soup to simmer for about an hour or two.  Stir the soup occasionally.  Refrigerate the soup overnight to allow the fat to congeal at the top.  The next day, carefully skim off the fat from the top of the soup.

6.  Bring to a boil and allow the soup to simmer until you are ready to eat. If you want to add pastine, add about five minutes before serving.

To serve, ladle some of the soup into a bowl.  Make sure that you get a lot of the individual ingredients -- chicken, meatballs, carrots, celery and escarole -- into each bowl.  Then top each bowl with a healthy amount of grated Pecorino Toscano, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano.



ENJOY!

For more about Minesta Maritata or Italian Wedding Soup, check out Supereva or About.com

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