This simple and classic Italian wedding soup will satisfy and warm you in the dead of winter, when warmth is elusive and coziness is all you want. But it is so delicious and light, you will happily enjoy it all year round.
I love a smooth and creamy soup as much as I love one with complexity, where each spoonful is different than the one before. Today, we have the latter. Moist and tender meatballs get a quick light char under the broiler before poaching in a simple broth to finish cooking. Mini pasta is thrown in to make the soup even heartier and more interesting. Then you drop in some leafy strong greens such as baby kale, and plenty of herbs. What you get is an entire meal in a bowl that is a lovely marriage of health and flavour.
This Italian wedding soup is a joy. It is the perfect January food quelling a wintery hunger and it may just have you heading back to the pot for seconds and thirds. It can easily be made a day or so before serving: the flavours improve as it sits, and it will reheat beautifully. Just be sure to hold back the pasta until ready to serve it.
Origin of Italian Wedding Soup
What we have come to know and love as Italian Wedding Soup, is actually an ancient Neapolitan soup called minestra maritata, which translates to “married soup”, not wedding soup. It refers to the ‘marriage’ of bits of inexpensive meat and leafy greens which make up the main ingredients. Minestra maritata makes the most of simple ingredients and is the perfect example of la cucina povera, the no-waste “poor cooking” tradition from rural Italy.
There are a number of regional variations, of course, and home cooks are at liberty to customize according to what they have on hand. Some versions might add more vegetables, like celery and carrot. Some even add a bit of tomato, bacon or pancetta. Here I prefer to stay true to the bare-bones version where juicy tender meatballs “marry” al dente pasta in a tasty broth infused with herbs and a large quantity of leafy greens. To me, these make the perfect union of flavours and texture and best kept humble and simple.
Italian Wedding Soup Recipe
There are 4 components to this simple, yet glorious, Italian wedding soup recipe: meatballs, leafy bitter greens, broth, and pasta.
The meatballs: Made with a bit of zingy lemon zest, lots of garlic and herbs these turkey meatballs are packed with flavour and outstanding all on their own. The inclusion of parmesan cheese ensures that the meatballs stay moist and tender, while the breadcrumbs and egg provide structure. I like to keep them as tiny as possible so one fits perfectly in the soup spoon. If you find rolling tiny ones too tedious (I often do too) feel free to roll them a little larger.
You can, of course, use any other ground meat, or a combination, to make your meatballs. If you wish to forego rolling meatballs altogether, you can use a crumbled Italian sausage instead. Some recipes skip browning the meatballs, allowing them to fully cook in the broth. For a bit of colour, and speed, I prefer to partially cook them under the broiler, before adding them to the broth. This also prevents them from falling apart in the broth.
The leafy greens: Traditionally, Italian wedding soup calls for bitter greens such as escarole or broccoli rabe. For ease and simplicity, and because escarole can be hard to find where I live, I like to use baby kale. The leaves are tender enough to cook quickly, but sturdy enough to hold their texture and green colour when introduced to the hot soup. Fell free to use spinach, or even cabbage if you prefer.
The broth: A meat broth, most commonly chicken, forms the base of this soup. Predictably, I would like to encourage you to use a homemade broth which is of course a million times more delicious than store-bought. That said, a good quality, low-sodium broth works perfectly fine for this soup. If you have one, drop a parmigiano rind into the simmering broth to add an extra depth of flavour.
The pasta: A handful of pastina (tiny pasta) is commonly found in Minestra maritata. It is meant to provide a little more texture and sustenance to the dish, but not upstage the other ingredients. Elbow, ditali, acini di pepe, or similar, will work here. This recipe calls for only 1 cup of pasta which won’t overwhelm the dish. If you wish to add more pasta, consider cooking it separately, then add to the broth when ready to serve. This is also recommended if making the soup ahead of time so that the pasta doesn’t turn mushy or soak up too much of the flavourful broth.
How To Make Italian Wedding Soup
Preparing the meatballs is the only bit of work this dish will require of you. But trust, these couldn’t be tastier, or more worth it.
Here is the simple process:
Prepare the meatballs; whisk together the eggs, garlic and herbs. Ad the meat, parmesan, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Roll the mixture into tiny meatballs and place on a baking sheet. Place under broiler for 4-5 minutes, or until just starting to brown.
Heat the broth, then add the pasta and cook for a few minutes before adding the partially cooked meatballs.
Once the pasta is cooked, add the leafy greens and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Note: If using a heartier green, you will have to cook for slightly longer. Taste for seasoning and adjust with a pinch more salt and pepper, if necessary.
Finish the served soup with a generous drizzle of olive oil, some chopped fresh parsley and dill, a squirt of lemon juice, and a good dose of grated Parmesan cheese.
Italian Wedding Soup Tips
- Use fresh breadcrumbs – To be sure, panko breadcrumbs are convenient to use in meatballs. Often it is what I use. Unfortunately, their dry texture can make the meatballs a little dense and not as moist. If possible, whiz up your own breadcrumbs in a food processor using fresh, somewhat stale bread.
- Use fresh herbs – This soup is almost all about the meatballs. We want them as flavourful and tender as possible. Fresh herbs add incredible flavour to the meatballs, which in turn help flavour the broth.
- Fresh Reggiano Parmesan – Use the real deal here, it makes such a difference. Both the meatballs, and the finished soup will thank you.
- Wet, or oil your hands to roll the meatballs. This prevents the meatball mixture from sticking to your hands.
Here are a few adaptations you can make to this recipe:
Replace the pasta with beans: For a low-carb version of this soup, use a can of cannellini beans in place of the pasta. Simply drain and rinse them well, and add to the broth at the same time you add the greens. You could also use a grain such as rice, farro, or barley, in which case it is best to cook these separately.
Add more veggies: If you wish, you can include sautéed carrots and celery to the broth.
Make it plant-based: I haven’t tried a plant-based version of this soup, but I have seen some floating around the internet which look quite tasty.
Make Ahead Italian Wedding Soup
You can make this entire soup a day or two ahead. As with most soups, this Italian wedding soup is even better the next day. However, if making ahead, hold back cooking the pasta until ready to serve.
To store leftovers: Place any leftovers in a tight-lid container and store for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. If possible, scoop out the pasta and store separately.
To reheat leftovers: Reheat desired amount in a saucepan over medium low heat, until warmed through. Add additional water or broth, if necessary.
Make Ahead Meatballs
Consider making a double batch of the meatballs to freeze. This will make it a breeze to whip up this soup on a busy weeknight.
To freeze meatballs: Broil the meatballs then allow to cool completely. Place cooled meatballs on a baking sheet in one layer so they aren’t touching and place in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe container with a tight lid. Freeze for up to 2 months. When ready to use, add frozen meatballs to broth and simmer until warmed through.
Other Soups You Might Enjoy:
- Caldo Verde (Portuguese Green Soup)
- Black Bean and Sausage Soup with Potatoes
- Italian Vegetable Soup
Italian Wedding Soup (Minestra Maritata)
For the Meatballs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 3 garlic cloves grated, or minced (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
- 1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves finely chopped
- 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves or replace with more parsley
- 1 lemon zested (half of the lemon will be used for the soup)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound lean ground turkey
- ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (or use panko mixed with 2 tablespoons milk)
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
For the Soup
- 8 - 10 cups low sodium chicken broth (see tips in notes if using store-bought)
- 1 cup small pasta such as elbow, ditalini, acini di pepe or any other small soup pasta
- 3 packed cups baby kale or spinach can also use escarole, rapini, cabbage, or any other bitter winter green, chopped.
- 1 - 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Kosher salt and balck papper to taste
- extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
- ¼ cup fresh dill, basil, or oregano roughly chopped for garnish (optional)
- Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil onto a medium-sized, unlined baking sheet. Using your hands spread the oil all over the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat together the egg, garlic, parsley, basil, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Add the turkey, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan cheese and mix with your hands until well combined. Form the mixture into tiny meatballs, about 1/2 inch in diameter and place them on prepared baking pan. Tip: Lightly wet, or oil, your hands if the meatball mexture is sticking to your hands.
- Set an oven rack 7 to 8 inches from the heat and heat the broiler to high. Once the broiler is hot, broil the meatballs until just starting to brown on one side about 4 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the chicken broth to a gentle boil. Add the pasta and cook over medium heat until just al dente, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to a low simmer. Tip: Don't let the broth come to a rapid boil while cooking the pasta or too much of the liquid will evaporate.
- Add the meatballs to the broth and simmer on low until completely warmed and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes, gently stirring occasionally. Once the pasta and meatballs are cooked, add the baby kale leaves. Simmer until wilted, about 1 minute. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning with a few pinches of salt and pepper, or another squirt of lemon juice, if necessary.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and stir in chopped dill, or other fresh herbs, if using. Drizzle each bowl with olive oil, and pass around the extra Parmesan cheese for everyone to sprinkle over the soup, as desired.
- If using store-bought chicken broth - Store-bought chicken broth is not as flavourful as homemade. Consider making a sofritto to flavour the broth by sautéing 1 or 2 diced carrots and 2 diced celery stalks in a bit of olive oil. Alternatively, simply add a few dashes of dried herbs such as an Italian blend, or thyme, or oregano.
- Add a parmesan rind to the broth - This adds incredible flavour to the soup, whether using homemade or store-bought broth. Just be sure to fish it out before serving.
- Use fresh breadcrumbs - To be sure, panko breadcrumbs are convenient to use in meatballs. Often it is what I use. Unfortunately, their dry texture can make the meatballs a little dense and not as moist. If possible, whiz up your own breadcrumbs in a food processor using fresh, somewhat stale bread.
- Use fresh herbs - This soup is almost all about the meatballs. We want them as flavourful and tender as possible. Fresh herbs add incredible flavour to the meatballs, which in turn help flavour the broth.
- Fresh Reggiano Parmesan - Use the real deal here, it makes such a difference. Both the meatballs, and the finished soup will thank you.
- Wet, or oil your hands to roll the meatballs. This prevents the meatball mixture from sticking to your hands.