Thursday, January 4, 2018

I is for: Italian Wedding Soup {gluten free, paleo, whole30}

As I type this, there's something called a bomb cyclone going on outside my window and every time the wind howls and spirals snow into the air, it literally sends shivers down my spine.

This is also known as "sit on the couch and eat soup while we watch movies all day" weather.

What kind of soup, you say? I'm so glad you asked.

As I mentioned in my "Healthy January" post earlier this week, I'm currently on a clean eating re-set for the new year. I'm avoiding alcohol, dairy, added sugars and most grains.

So when I was brainstorming ideas for the letter "I"... I came across a dish called "Italian Wedding Soup."  Basically, it's a chicken broth-based soup with mini meatballs, a bitter green such as escarole or curly endive, and small pasta such as orzo, pastina or acini de pepe.


Contrary to its name, this soup is not actually eaten at Italian weddings. It actually stems from a term called "minestra maritata" which literally means "married soup," referring to the marriage of greens and broth. Whatever it means, it's a marriage that's happily sitting in my belly at the moment.


To "healthify" this recipe (yes, I'm full on using that made up word now), I am using a blend chicken and Italian chicken sausage instead of beef and pork in the meatballs, and also making them without bread crumbs. I also decided to omit the pasta from this recipe altogether, but feel free to add some in if you don't mind the gluten or carbs.


Because the meatballs don't include breadcrumbs or bread at all (not even gluten free ones), I thought they would be denser than normal, but they actually held together great and were deliciously juicy. (In fact, I made a double batch and we had some larger ones last night with my simple marinara sauce.)


To ensure they don't get too dry, it's important to use ground chicken thighs & Italian chicken sausage so you don't lose too much fat content. Grated onion and chia seeds will also help keep the moisture levels where they need to be without the use of bread or breadcrumbs.


It's also important that, for the purposes of this soup, these meatballs are really small. Like, tiny, mini-me meatballs. They should be no larger than an inch in diameter. This recipe should make about 40-45 of them.


Most recipes I read call for the meatballs to simply be simmered in the broth to cook them. Mine seemed a little softer than normal meatballs, so I was afraid this wouldn't work. To be safe, I ran them under the broiler for about five minutes before adding them to the soup. (And to be honest, even though it's not traditional, I kinda liked the browned crust it created.)


As for the soup itself, start with a basic mirepoix of onions, celery and carrots. Sauté them in a little olive oil and then add in some garlic and parsley.



Then add in about 8 cups of chicken broth. Of course, homemade would be preferred here, but boxed works just fine. Simmer for about 8-10 minutes, or until vegetables are done to your liking.


Ok... it's time to marry those greens! Traditional Italian Wedding Soup calls for escarole or curly endive, so that's what I used, but you could really use whatever greens you like best. Kale, chard, mustard greens or even spinach would work just as well here.


Add cooked meatballs and chopped greens to the soup and cook until meatballs are warmed through and the greens are tender.

*Again, I didn't use any pasta in this recipe, but if you want to, you can add it here before the meatballs and greens. (Any super small pasta like orzo, pastina or acini de pepe are the recommended types for this soup.)


Ladle into bowls and serve hot.


Often this soup is often topped with grated Parmesan cheese, but since we aren't doing dairy at the moment, we just sprinkled with red pepper flakes and put the cheese in there for the photo. (Thanks, as always to Justin for the amazing photos and editing, even in low light.)


Stay warm and safe out there, everyone! (Or just stay inside and make this soup.)

Gluten Free Italian Wedding Soup

by Jaymee Sire
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Keywords: soup soup/stew chicken chia seeds escarole Italian winter

Ingredients (6 servings)
    For the meatballs:
    • 1/2 pound ground dark chicken meat
    • 1/2 pound hot Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 3 tablespoons grated onion
    • 3 tablespoons chopped, fresh Italian parsley
    • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
    • 2 teaspoons chia seeds
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1-2 pinches red pepper flakes
    • freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
    • olive oil, for forming meatballs
    For the soup:
    • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 medium onion, small dice
    • 2 medium carrots, small dice
    • 2 stalks celery, small dice
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh Italian parsley
    • 8 cups chicken broth
    • 1 head of escarole (or other bitter green), trimmed & sliced into 1-inch pieces
    • salt & pepper, to taste
    • red pepper flakes or grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
    Instructions
    1. Combine all of the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and lightly mix with your hands, making sure not to over mix. If the mixture still seems very soft, add another teaspoon of chia seeds. Refrigerate until ready to form meatballs.
    2. Coating your fingers in olive oil, form meatball mixture into tiny balls, 1-inch in diameter. Place on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate one hour or overnight if making a day ahead. (If mixture still seems too wet/soft, keep in mind the chia seeds will absorb some of the liquid while setting up in the fridge.)
    3. Set broiler to high, with rack on the highest slot. Broil meatballs for 5-6 minutes, until lightly browned on top. Remove and set aside.
    4. While meatballs are cooking, heat olive oil on medium high in a large soup pot or dutch oven. Sauté onion, carrot and celery for about 5 minutes, until they start to soften. Add garlic and parsley and cook a minute more. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Cook another 10 minutes, or until vegetables are done to your liking.
    5. Add meatballs to the broth, along with the chopped escarole. Cook until meatballs are warmed through and escarole is tender, about 5-7 minutes.
    6. Ladle into bowls and serve sprinkled with red pepper flakes and/or Parmesan cheese.
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