Italian Wedding Soup is a rich, hearty recipe made with small beef and pork meatballs, tender greens, and delicate pasta. This authentic Italian wedding soup recipe takes a little time to make, but it's well worth the effort. To get a jump on things make both the meatballs and the chicken stock ahead of time!
Growing up in Italy and living there still, this nourishing chicken and mini meatball soup, famously known as Italian Wedding Soup, takes me right back to my Nonna’s kitchen.
She always had a big stockpot of this hearty, but delicate soup simmering on the stovetop when I visited her. Every spoonful filled me with warmth and comfort; when I make this wedding soup recipe today I think of her.
To make this soup requires time and attention. To get the full experience, the meatballs should be small, spoon-sized, and the chicken stock should be made from scratch. The greens and the pasta delicate and yielding to the other flavors. It's a Sunday soup for savoring and sharing.
Italian Wedding Soup is a complete meal all in one, but if you’d like to pair this soup recipe with a simple Parmesan salad or crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside rosemary focaccia bread, I wouldn’t blame you.
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Why Is it Called Italian Wedding Soup?
Did you know Italian Wedding Soup has nothing to do with weddings? The name is a misnomer, taken from the Neapolitan name “minestra maritata,” or “married soup.”
The original was a much different soup with no pasta; just lots of greens—chicory, escarole, cabbage, and kale among them—and a hearty broth made from ham bone and sausages.
The “marriage” refers not to the union of two people, but the “marriage” of the many ingredients that come together in the dish. The version we have come to know and love, with tiny meatballs, noodles, and greens wilted in a gentle broth, is what I call “minestra della Nonna,” after my grandmother.
The crowning touch of this comforting soup is a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese right before serving.
What You Need to Make Italian Wedding Soup
Making the homemade broth for Italian Wedding Soup takes time, but the process is simple, and you can prep the other ingredients for the soup while the broth is simmering. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
For the broth:
- Whole or cut-up chicken
- Yellow onion: Cut the onion into quarters and stick a whole clove into each quarter to give the broth a hint of spice.
- Carrots: Peeled and cut into batons, carrots add depth and sweetness to the broth.
- Celery: Two ribs, cut into segments, give the broth an appealing vegetal note.
- Fresh herbs: I toss one or two sprigs of thyme and parsley into the broth for herbal flavor and added nutrition.
- Whole peppercorns: Together with the 4 whole cloves, ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns adds a little spice to the broth.
- Fine sea salt: Added at the end of simmering, it brings everything together.
For the meatballs and the soup:
- Fresh breadcrumbs: Crumbs from a sturdy loaf of bread will give you the best texture for the meatballs.
- Whole milk: Soaking the bread in milk softens it and adds richness and moisture to your meatball mixture.
- Ground beef and pork: Using a mix of both gives the meatballs a better flavor.
- 1 small egg: This helps to bind the meatball mixture.
- Garlic: I use just one clove because the garlic flavor should be subtle.
- Parsley: Tossing in a pinch of minced parsley punches up the flavor of the meatballs.
- Escarole or spinach: Escarole can be tough when raw, but when simmered in broth it becomes meltingly tender. If you’re using escarole, separate the leaves from the core and then roughly chop or slice them. Spinach makes a good substitute; or you can use Swiss chard leaves. Just make sure you add some greens to give the soup a nutritious boost.
- Pasta: In my family, we make this soup with capellini or thin spaghetti. I sometimes use tiny star pastina, but it’s more traditional to break strands of long, thin noodles right into the simmering broth. However, you can use any small thin pasta you like. Many recipes call for acini di pepe or ditalini and both are welcome choices.
- Parmigiano cheese: Nothing beats the robust, rich umami flavor of genuine, imported Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Take a moment to to seek out the good stuff.
How to Make Italian Wedding Soup
Although it takes some time to make this comforting soup recipe, most of the components can be done ahead of time. Once you’ve made chicken broth from scratch, you’ll realize it’s worth the time. I promise.
- Make the chicken broth: Place one whole (4-pound) or cut-up chicken and 4 quarts water in a large stock pot. Add a quartered onion (stuck with cloves), carrots, celery, parsley, thyme, and ½ teaspoon peppercorns to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 3 hours. Add salt to taste during the last hour of cooking. Once the broth has reduced by half and developed a rich, robust flavor it's ready. The broth is ready when it is reduced by about one-half and has developed a rich, robust flavor.
- Strain the broth: Strain the broth through a colander lined with cheesecloth into a large, clean container. Reserve the carrots and celery and some of the chicken pieces if you like to add to the soup (refrigerate them if not making the soup immediately). If you have time, cover, and refrigerate the broth overnight until well chilled; then skim off and discard the congealed layer of fat on the surface. (Use the broth within 3 days or freeze.)
- Make the mini meatballs. Line a baking sheet or large platter with parchment paper. Combine the bread and milk in a bowl. Let it sit, then gently squeeze out any excess milk and return the bread to the bowl. Add the beef, pork, egg and ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, garlic, parsley, and salt. Mix everything well with your hands or a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.
- Shape the meatballs: Dampen your hands with cold water, pinch off pieces of the meatball mixture, and roll them into balls about the size of a marble, placing them on the prepared baking sheet or platter as you go. (You will end up with anywhere from 60 to 100 mini meatballs, depending on how small you roll them.)
- Make the soup: Bring 8 cups of defatted broth to a boil in a large pot over medium heat. Carefully add the meatballs and 5 ounces (5 to 6 cups) raw chopped escarole or spinach leaves to the pot. Simmer the soup for about 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through, and the greens have wilted. At this point, you can add about 2 cups cut-up reserved cooked chicken from the broth and cut-up pieces of carrots or celery. Stir in 2 ¼ cup pasta and simmer until the pasta is cooked. The cooking time will depend on the brand you use.
Ladle the hot soup into bowls and sprinkle each serving with about 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.
Do-Ahead Tips for Italian Wedding Soup
This soup is a Saturday or Sunday meal and not something you would put together on a weeknight. It's worth it, however, when your efforts result in exceptional flavor and every celebrates your efforts with accolades and requests for second helpings.
If life allows make this soup in stages and bring it all together on the day you want to serve it.
- The chicken broth can be made well in advance; in fact, I recommend it. Making it a day or two ahead means you can chill it in the refrigerator and then skim off the layer of congealed fat that settles on top. You can even make it months in advance and freeze it until you need it.
- You can either make the meatballs 1 day in advance and refrigerate them or freeze them raw on a baking sheet covered with plastic wrap.
- Transfer the frozen meatballs to a zip top bag and return them to the freezer. Don’t defrost them in the bag or they will clump together. Instead, spread them out once more on the baking sheet or platter and let them defrost, covered, overnight in the refrigerator. Then add them to the soup as directed in the recipe.
What do Serve with Wedding Soup
To be honest, this soup has everything—nourishing broth, vegetables, protein in the form of meat and cheese, and carbs from the pasta. So, it’s great on its own.
If you’d like to serve it with a side, I suggest a small green salad simply dressed with olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of salt.
More Satisfying Soup Recipes
Italian Wedding Soup
For the broth:
- 1 (4 pound) whole or cut-up organic chicken
- 1 yellow onion, quartered
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 2- to 3-inch segments
- 2 ribs celery, trimmed and cut into 2- to 3-inch segments
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 2 sprigs thyme
- ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon Fine sea salt, or to taste
For the meatballs and soup:
- ¾ cup torn pieces of fresh sturdy bread, crusts removed
- ¼ cup milk
- 4 ounces ground beef
- 4 ounces ground pork
- 1 small egg, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving the soup
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 5 ounces raw chopped escarole or baby spinach leaves; about 5-6 cups
- 1 ¼ cups broken capellini, thin spaghetti or other small soup pasta
- Make the chicken broth: Put the chicken in a large stock pot and cover with 4 quarts cold water. Into each of the onion quarters insert 1 clove and add them to the pot. Add the carrots, celery, parsley, thyme, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to medium-low, then skim any foam that forms on the surface. Simmer gently, uncovered, for about 3 hours, adding salt to taste during the last hour of cooking. The broth is ready when it is reduced by about ⅓ to ½ and has developed a rich flavor.
- Strain the broth: Strain the broth through a colander lined with cheesecloth into a clean lidded container. Reserve some pieces of chicken, carrots, and celery for the soup and discard the bones and the rest of the solids.
- Refrigerate the broth: Refrigerate the broth and reserved meat and vegetables. When the broth is completely chilled, skim off and discard the congealed layer of fat on the surface of the broth before reheating. This step is optional but recommended.
- Make the meatballs: Line a large baking sheet or platter with parchment paper. In a bowl, combine the torn bread and milk and let sit for about 15 minutes, or until the bread has absorbed the liquid. Gently squeeze out the excess milk and return the bread to the bowl. Add the beef, pork, egg, cheese, garlic, parsley, and salt. Mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.
- Shape the meatballs: Dampen your hands with cold water, pinch off small pieces of the mixture (1 to 2 teaspoons) and roll them into balls about the size of a marble, setting them on the prepared baking sheet or platter as you go. You should end up with 60 to 100 meatballs, depending on how small you roll them.
- Make the soup: Bring 8 cups defatted broth to a boil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Carefully drop in the meatballs and stir gently. Add the greens and simmer everything for about 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through, and the greens have wilted. Add the reserved chicken and vegetables from the broth, if using. Stir in the pasta and let the soup boil gently until the pasta is al dente; the cooking time will vary depending on which pasta you use and the brand.
- Serve: Ladle the hot soup into shallow bowls and sprinkle each serving with about 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- Make the broth in advance: You can make, strain, and refrigerate the broth 1 to 3 days in advance. Or freeze it in containers with tight-fitting lids. Thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before making the soup.
- Make the meatballs in advance: You can make the meatball mixture and roll it into balls a day in advance and refrigerate them, covered, on a baking sheet or platter. Or, you can freeze them on the baking sheet.
- Leftovers and storage: Store leftovers in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. To reheat, transfer to a pot and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Add a splash or two of broth or water to loosen the soup, if necessary. Once boiling, remove from the heat and serve.
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