Friday, December 23, 2011

A key to my father's heart - Italian Wedding soup

We all should be nicer to our parents.  In the hustle of everyday lives we often forget that we don’t have infinite amount of time to make up for lack of attention or patience towards them.  One day we will watch them become frail and helpless and then… just gone… 
I should be nicer to my father, and they key to this man’s heart is soup.  He has eaten a bowl of soup every day of his life, maybe with very few exceptions.  My father is a strange man when it comes to food, he does not see it as source of pleasure, just nourishment.  He eats at set times of the day, hell or high water, and he never snacks… ever…   He will have once piece of chocolate a day or one tablespoon of honey and exactly 3 fruits, no more, no less.  He does not have cravings…  He is also only 5 lbs heavier than when he was in college and he does not have high cholesterol, diabetes, heart problems that most develop in his age (Knock on wood!)… But he loves his soup, and it is the only thing he knows how to cook himself.  Three soups to be exact, that is all for his culinary skills… He has cooked the same three soups for 20 years, ever since my mother died and my grandmother wrote down three of her simples recipes down for him.  He has cooked these soups probably a thousand times, but he still uses the stained, yellowed papers and meticulously measures out each ingredient: “ 1 tbs of salt, ½ tbs of pepper…etc..” .  He will never weir off from the recipe, never substitute an ingredient and will never improvise…   He is sick of his three soups, but every time he calls me for help, the words “Salt and pepper to taste” bring him into a state of chaos…. He never tried to cook a single thing I suggested, no matter how easy I thought I made the recipe for him.  Of course I don’t have the time or the patience to write down a recipe on paper, never mind that I do it every week for this blog… I really should be nicer to my father.
I made a huge pot of this soup for him last weekend to take back home and enjoy all week.  He called me the next day, giddy with delight and told me that the soup is delicious; I could hear him smiling on the phone… I am sure he loved the soup, but I bet it is the extra attention that really made him smile.
This is my version of Italian Wedding soup; I realize that it may not be the most authentic old country recipe but it is guaranteed to melt anyone’s heart.  The soup is almost addictive so I recommend making an extra batch of meatballs and freeze them, so that you can whip this up anytime, especially if you want to do something nice for a parent.

Italian Wedding Soup.
For the soup.
1.5 lbs of chicken pieces (dark or white meat, I like to use dark meat, I find that it gives the soup more “chickenness”)
1 yellow onion whole
1 parsley root peeled
4 garlic cloves peeled and roughly chopped
1 large carrot chopped
3 celery ribs chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
1 samll spring rosemary
2 springs of thyme
14 cups of water (or enough to fill a large pot)
1 ½ cup of orzo or other small cut pasta
1 12 oz can of navy or cannellini beans rinsed
2 eggs
2 cups of chopped fresh spinach or kale (Kale is traditional in this recipe but I like spinach as well)
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the meatballs
1 lbs of ground chicken (or veal)
½ cup of breadcrumbs
½ tbs of poultry seasoning
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tbs fresh rosemary finely chopped
2 garlic cloves grated
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 egg
Fresh ground pepper

Start by making a really simple chicken soup.  In a large pot combine the chicken, onion, parsley root, carrots, celery, garlic.  Tie the rosemary and thyme with kitchen twine and add that in, as well as the bay leaf.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Once the water reaches a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low.  My mother always said that you should not let the chicken soup boil hard or cook it covered as it will not be ‘clear”.  Simmer the soup skimming off the foam, fat and shmutz that will rise up to the surface.  Don’t salt the soup at this point, just season it with pepper.  Cook for about 1 hr. 

While the soup cooks, prepare the meatballs.  Combine all of the ingredients and stir to combine.  Do not over-mix or the meatballs will be tough. 

I like to make the meatballs tiny, ½ to 1/3 of an inch in diameter.  Wet the palms of your hands before rolling, it will prevent the meat from sticking.  Place prepared meatballs on a cutting board and park them in the fridge until ready to use.  At this point you can make an extra batch and just freeze them on a cutting board.  Store in a freezer zip top bag for up to 1 month.  
After an hour of simmering, remove the onion, parsley root and herbs from the soup and discard.  Remove the chicken as well (you can use the boiled chicken for many purposes; I usually make chicken salad and serve the problem of school lunches for a few days).
Add the pasta.  Cook for 3 minutes than add all the meatballs at once.  Stir gently and let cook for 5- 6 min.  Add the beans (don’t forget to rinse them).

In a small ball whisk the 2 eggs and add a about a tablespoon of room temperature water.  With a spatula or a long spoon stir your soup vigorously to create a whirlpool.  Gently stream the egg mixture into the whirlpool continuing to stir.  This will prevent the eggs from scrambling, instead you soup will become silky and turn a beautiful milky yellow color.
Now you can taste and re-season your soup.  Add the salt and pepper to taste.  Most likely, you will find yourself adding very little salt at this point, because of all the salty parmesan from the meatballs.  This is why I don’t recommend salting this soup up until very end.
At this point you will need to add the chopped spinach or kale.  If using spinach, I like to turn off the heat, add the greens, give them a stir, cover the pot and just let the soup sit for 5 -10 min before serving.  If using kale, which is tougher than spinach, cook the greens in the soup for 2-3 min before turning off, covering and resting the soup.

Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese or fresh ground pepper or both. 
Now go call your Mother or Father!

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