It’s very hard to trace the origins of Italian wedding soup, and when exactly this soup, a variant of minestrone with meatballs, was first connected to weddings. In Italy the soup is called ministra maritata. Maritata translates as marriage, and many food historians believe that marriage referred to the ingredients mixed together, not to the soup being served at marriages. Italian wedding soup ingredients and style may date back to the Romans, but its name may be much newer. An alternate name for the soup is pignato grasso.
Today, you’ll find some Italian families in the US who insist the soup is traditional at weddings. This may explain why it kept its name in translation. The soup is surely not only for weddings; restaurants like The Olive Garden® serve it from time to time. Mostly you’ll find this soup in Italian restaurants on the East Coast in the US, but its popularity is growing.
There are a number of different variants of Italian wedding soup, but most recipes for it call for the addition of tiny meatballs, which can be made of pork, pork and beef mixed together, or ground poultry. Pork and beef meatballs appear the most popular choice. Many chefs suggest looking for lean meats, since cooking the meatballs in the soup can leave the top of the soup somewhat greasy.
Some recipes for Italian wedding soup call for the soup to be made over three days. The first is given to preparing chicken stock, the second to cooking meatballs and the third to combining and simmering the ingredients for hours. There are many easier recipes to follow. The principal taste notes that should contrast in this soup are sharp green flavors like escarole, and relatively spicy meatballs. Most of these soup recipes also add traditional minestrone ingredients like beans, tomatoes, chopped vegetables and pasta.
Pasta choice varies, with some suggesting small pasta varieties like orzo and others just adding in spaghetti. You can pretty much choose the pasta shape and size you most enjoy. Since pasta does absorb some of the liquid of the soup, you may want to pre-cook it and add it to the soup in the last 30 minutes of cooking. Many also suggest pre-cooking and draining the meatballs to eliminate some of the oil. More traditional recipes drop the meatballs into the simmering stock, cooking them on high temperature for about ten minutes before adding greens, beans, vegetables and pasta.
For shortcut versions of Italian wedding soup, you can purchase meatloaf mix in the stores, usually from your butcher. Use pre-made chicken stock instead of making your own, and use canned beans. In this manner you can make an Italian wedding soup in about half an hour to an hour. Some object to the quick cooking method since the meatballs don’t have time to absorb the flavors of the stock.
However you prepare it, you’ll find thousands of recipe variants in Italian cookbooks and on the Internet. Whether you plan to serve it at a wedding, or simply enjoy its marriage of flavors, the soup remains delicious comfort food.