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Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup Plated
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There’s no doubt about it – SOUP IS GOOD FOOD. And, soup season is seriously a year-round affair for me, as I love eating it anytime. This hearty Italian Wedding Soup, though, reminds me for sure of cooler times, hats and heavy coats. It contains a beautiful and delicious combination of savory mini-meatballs, mildly bitter escarole, a rich broth, hints of parmigiano cheese and a full-bodied flavor.

Italian Wedding Soup Plated

This soup is signature Italian American — well, its name is anyway. This pairing of greens and meat in soup, though, is classic and hails from the southern Italian region of Campania where it most likely contained leftover meat (probably pork) combined with whatever green or slightly bitter vegetables were around, like chicory, cabbage, escarole, chard, spinach, endive or lettuce. It is peasant food at its core.

Like many classics, there are lots of variations of Italian Wedding Soup, most notably with the addition of pasta and chicken.

Misconceptions about Italian Wedding Soup . . .

One of the biggest misconceptions of this soup is not whether or not it should contain pasta or chicken, though. It is the origin of its name. Here in the United States, it is widely known as Italian Wedding Soup, and most people, if asked, would say that it is called that because it was the traditional soup served at weddings in Italy.

But, this is actually not correct — Wedding Soup history really has nothing to do with weddings. Rather, its name is a (somewhat) literal translation of its original Italian name of ‘minestra maritata’, which translates to ‘married broth’, referring to the fact that greens plus meat together in a broth were a perfect ‘marriage of flavors’. So, you can see now why the name eventually morphed into ‘Wedding Soup’ over the years and across countries. Consequently, this beloved soup is now often served at Italian American weddings and other celebrations and holidays.

Buon Appetitio!

I seriously love it! I grew up eating this and my mom’s version was amazing. I’ve added a few personal twists to my recipe, while still keeping to the core and spirit of my mom’s version. Rich, succulent meatballs are simmered in a savory broth with lots of escarole yielding a really well-rounded dish. I hope you love this dish as much as I do!

Ingredients

To make Italian Wedding Soup, we will be using the following ingredients:

  • Ground Beef: I used 80/20 grass-fed ground beef in this dish, but any ground beef will work well.
  • Escarole: A mildly bitter, leafy green that holds up well to longer cooking techniques and braising.
  • Broth (chicken or meat/beef or both): Homemade is always preferred. If purchased, I always suggest a low- or no-sodium version. Regular varieties are laden with sodium and it is always better for you to control the amount of salt in the final product!
  • Eggs and Breadcrumbs: Bind the meatball mixture together.
  • Whole Milk: Moistens the breadcrumbs and adds richness to the meatballs.
  • Cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano): Adds flavor and richness to the meatballs, as well as sharpness and saltiness to the finished soup – in a good way!
  • Cheese Rind: Adds a savory depth and body to the broth.
  • Olive Oil: Used to caramelize the tomato paste and sauté the vegetables.

The Aromatics . . .

  • Yellow Onions and Garlic: Used in both the meatball mixture and the soup itself, onions and garlic are important flavor builders.
  • Carrots and Celery: Along with onions and garlic, these ingredients are important components in building a strong base of flavor in many soups.
  • Fresh Herbs (Basil and Parsley): Add brightness and flavor to the meatballs.Tomato Paste: Adds umami (savoriness) and a depth of flavor to the soup.Crushed Red Pepper: Adds both flavor and a touch of heat. Feel free to leave this out if you prefer. It’s best to add this to the pan at the beginning along with the garlic and olive oil so that its flavors infuse into the oil.
  • Salt and Black Pepper: Always to your taste and always freshly ground black pepper, if possible!

A complete and detailed list of ingredients with amounts and instructions is included in the recipe below.⁠

Step-By-Step, Pro-Tips included!

Here are the main steps for how to make Italian Wedding Soup:

  • Prep and measure all ingredients. Be sure to rinse or peel all vegetables before using, and cut or hand-tear the escarole into bite-sized pieces.
    • PRO-TIP: To save time when cooking, prep the escarole in advance and store it in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator for up to one day.
Italian Wedding Soup Ingredients
  • Make the meatballs.
    • PRO-TIPS: When making the meatballs, it is important to soak the breadcrumbs in the milk/egg mixture for a couple of minutes, then mix this with the rest of the non-meat ingredients well before combining it with the ground beef. This is done so that the actually mixing of the ground meat will be minimized, preventing the mixture from being overworked and resulting in tough meatballs.
      • To save time when cooking, the meatball mixture can be made in advance, formed and held, raw, in the refrigerator for up to one day if covered tightly.
      • Be sure to put the meatballs in the broth raw and cook them in the broth for extra-flavor and richness in the final soup (as opposed to cooking them separately first).
      • Use a portioning scoop for consistently-sized meatballs.

  • Caramelize the tomato paste in the olive oil to bring out its flavors, then continue by sautéing the garlic and crushed red pepper, then the onions, carrots and celery until they are mostly softened.
    • PRO-TIP: Use a pot that is at least 7 quarts so that you have plenty of room!

  • Add the broth and parmigiano cheese rind to the pot, bring it to a simmer, then gently place the meatballs in the broth one-by-one.

  • Once the meatballs are set (i.e., cooked), gently add the escarole to the broth in batches as the escarole leaves are gradually wilted in the broth.

  • The soup is finished once the escarole leaves are tender. Season the soup to your liking, then serve it piping hot with a generous sprinkle of grated Pecorino Romano cheese. That’s it!
Italian Wedding Soup Finished Close Up

Recipe Variations for Italian Wedding Soup

This Italian Wedding Soup is pretty perfect as is, but here are a few ideas for simple twists:

  • Add Chicken: Many versions of this soup include pulled chicken along with the meatballs for added flavor and texture variety or only include chicken and no meatballs. Both work wonderfully!
  • Change the Meat: Use either ground turkey or ground chicken in place of ground beef.
  • Add Pasta! I often include pasta and LOVE it with tortellini, but tubettini, ditalini and orzo are great options as well. My suggestion would be to cook the pasta separately. Then, add it to the soup right before final heating and serving. If you plan on freezing the soup, freeze it without the pasta.
  • Make it Brothier: Make this hearty, thick soup brothier by just adding additional broth, to your liking.
  • Use a Different Green: Spinach and Swiss chard are good alternatives to the escarole.
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs or rolled oats for the regular breadcrumbs in the meatballs to make this soup gluten-free.

What to Serve With Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup is a hearty soup that could easily be a meal in and of itself in a large portion. A light green salad and some crusty bread are classic accompaniments.

Alternatively, serve this soup as a first course in a small portion . Then, follow it with a simple Pasta Al Pomodoro or plate of assorted Roasted Vegetables.

Kitchen Tools & Cookware for Italian Wedding Soup

To make this Italian Wedding Soup recipe, you will need the following:

Italian Wedding Soup Finished Plated On Spoon

More Great Recipes to Try

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Italian Wedding Soup Plated

Italian Wedding Soup

Michele
This hearty soup is signature Italian American. With a beautiful and delicious combination of savory mini-meatballs, mildly bitter escarole, a rich broth, hints of parmigiano cheese, its full-bodied flavor will not disappoint!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 1 hr 15 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 1 hr 55 mins
Course Soup
Cuisine Italian
Servings 12 servings

Ingredients
  

For the Meatballs(makes about 70 – .4 ounce meatballs):

  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (See NOTE below.)
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese (See NOTE below.)
  • 1/4 cup minced yellow onion, (about ½ large onion)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 lb ground beef (90/10 grind is preferable)

For the Soup:

  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced or chopped garlic
  • pinch crushed red pepper
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups small diced yellow onions
  • 1 cup small diced carrots
  • 1 cup small diced celery
  • 2 1/2 quarts chicken or meat broth, preferably homemade
  • 1-2 parmigiano cheese rinds
  • 2 large heads escarole, cored, chopped into bite-sized pieces, rinsed of all dirt and drained of all liquid (about 2 pounds)
  • to taste salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (for serving)

Instructions
 

  • Prep all ingredients according to specifications above.
  • Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, whisk the eggs & milk together, then immerse the breadcrumbs in it & ensure they are fully immersed. Let this mixture sit for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the breadcrumbs to get soaked by the liquids, then add the next 7 ingredients and mix together until well-combined. Gently fold in the ground beef and mix so that all is well-combined. Do not overmix! Form mixture into small meatballs, about .4-.5 ounce each, and arrange them on a large plate or sheet pan and set them aside until you are ready to add them to the soup. (See NOTE below.)
  • Add the oil, garlic and crushed red pepper to a large pot or Dutch oven (at least 7 quarts) over medium-low heat and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the garlic starts to brown. Then, increase the heat to medium, add the tomato paste and caramelize it for about two minutes.
  • Add the onions, carrots and celery and continue to sauté until they are mostly softened, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Carefully pour the broth into the pot, add the parmigiano rind, cover and bring the broth to a light simmer.
  • One-by-one (so as to not damage/cause the meatballs to clump together) add the meatballs to the broth while gently stirring. Slowly bring the broth back up to a simmer, while stirring occasionally, and ensure that the meatballs are set.
  • Once the meatballs are set (cooked), gently add the escarole to the broth in batches as the escarole leaves are gradually wilted in the broth.
  • Partially cover the pot, then simmer the soup until the escarole leaves are tender. Season with salt and black pepper.
  • Serve piping hot with a generous sprinkle of grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Buon Appetito!

Notes

  • This recipe can easily be cut in half to yield a smaller amount. If you do this, you can use a smaller pot.
  • Homemade breadcrumbs are ideal, but regular purchased breadcrumbs work well, too. No need to get the “Italian” or seasoned breadcrumbs unless you prefer them, as this recipe has lots of flavor as is!
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and Grana Padano are all great cheese options. The cheese should be grated and not shredded.
  • When making the meatballs, it is important to soak the breadcrumbs in the milk/egg mixture for a couple of minutes, then mix this with the rest of the non-meat ingredients well before combining it with the ground beef. This is done so that the actually mixing of the ground meat will be minimized, preventing the mixture from being overworked and resulting in tough meatballs.
  • The actual size of the meatballs is a personal choice, but I suggest keeping them at ½ ounce or smaller for this recipe. Also, using a portioning scoop or spoon will result in consistently-sized meatballs.
  • The meatballs can be cooked separately from the soup if you prefer. To do this, arrange them in rows on a parchment-lined sheet pan and roast in a 350°F oven for about 8-10 minutes. However, the flavor of the broth will be so much richer if you cook the meatballs in the broth as described in the recipe above.
  • To save time when cooking, prep the escarole in advance and store it in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator for up to one day. Also, the meatball mixture can be made in advance, formed and held, raw, in the refrigerator for up to one day if covered tightly.
  • The soup gets better as it sits, so it is a great option to make ahead of time.
  • This soup freezes really well! Make a large batch, portion it into containers and freeze for up to two months to enjoy down the road.
Recipe by Mangia With Michele. Please visit my site for more great cooking inspiration!
If you try this recipe, please share a photo on INSTAGRAM or FACEBOOK and tag it @MangiaWithMichele and #MangiaWithMichele. I’d love to see it!
Keyword soup, italian wedding soup, wedding soup, escarole soup, soup recipes

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5 thoughts on “Italian Wedding Soup

  1. All look very good. Can you put up more recipes please.

    1. Thanks, Philip!

  2. 5 stars
    Great recipe!

  3. 5 stars
    Michele’s Italian Wedding Soup is more than delicious!! I followed the recipe to the letter, and the flavours and seasonings were perfect! The directions in the recipe were super easy to follow, and preparing all the ingredients before cooking is key. Michele always adds “NOTES” in her recipes, and they’re very helpful! Love love and love this soup — the whole family does!!

    1. Thanks, Jodie! I am so happy that you enjoyed this Italian Wedding Soup recipe!

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