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Lynda Balslev: Cheesy Italian weddings

 

I’ve written about the satisfaction of bowl food at this time of year, but there’s another style of food that’s equally comforting in the winter: meatballs. After all, who doesn’t like a good meatball?

Meatballs come in all sizes — small, large, patties — with different types of protein (beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, even fish), while variations effortlessly veer away from “meat” to other star ingredients, such as pulses, beans and grains. In other words, meatballs are versatile and universally pleasing to eat, appealing to most diets and preferences. They are also efficiently economical, a great way to stretch inexpensive ingredients, and they can be frozen or refrigerated for later use, which is ideal for an easy weeknight meal.

This soup recipe is a two-fer. It’s a steaming bowl of comforting soup packed with turkey meatballs floating in a nourishing chicken broth. The recipe takes inspiration from an Italian wedding soup, a classic Italian-American vegetable and meatball soup (and to be clear, the term “wedding” refers to the marriage of its ingredients, not the celebration of a romantic union). There are numerous iterations of an Italian wedding soup. The meatballs can be made of chicken, turkey, beef or pork, which mingle with diced aromatics, such as onion, carrot and celery. For extra substance, the soup sometimes includes pasta. In other words, how you make it is open to your interpretation, taste and the contents of your refrigerator.



In this recipe, I’ve omitted the pasta and amped up the flavor of the broth and meatballs with copious amounts of cheese. While Parmesan is a popular go-to, I find that the salty sharpness of pecorino Romano adds more oomph and flavor to the meatballs. A hunk of cheese rind is added to the broth (a humble and effective no-waste technique to build flavor and body), which accentuates a cheesy-umami richness in an otherwise simple soup.

Feel free to use this recipe as a template and make your own modifications depending on what you have on hand. For instance, if you have some post-Thanksgiving frozen turkey stock, use that for the base of the soup. Or switch out the ground turkey for ground chicken to make the meatballs. If you would like to add some pasta, try orzo or a small tubular pasta, such as ditalini — and note that you may need to add more stock, since the pasta will absorb some as it cooks. If you don’t have homemade stock on hand, a good-quality store-bought chicken stock will easily stand in for a quick weeknight dinner.



Cheesy Turkey Meatball Soup

Active time: 45 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes, plus chilling time

Yield: Serves: 4 to 5, makes about 16 meatballs

Meatballs:

1 pound ground turkey (or chicken)

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup packed finely grated pecorino Romano cheese

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Vegetable oil

Soup:

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large carrot, sliced

1 celery stalk, diced

Kosher salt

5 to 6 cups chicken stock

1 (2-inch) chunk Parmesan rind

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups spinach leaves or coarsely chopped kale leaves

Grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Combine the meatball ingredients (excluding oil) in a bowl and mix to blend. Form into 1-inch meatballs, flatten slightly, and place on a plate. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a deep skillet or soup pot. Add the meatballs in one layer without overcrowding, in batches if necessary. Brown on both sides, turning when they release easily from the pan, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. (They will finish cooking in the soup.)

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add the onion, carrots, celery and a pinch of salt to the skillet and saute until the vegetables are bright and tender, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring up any brown bits. Add the stock, cheese, bay leaf, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper. Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Add the meatballs and continue to cook until the meatballs are fully cooked, 8 to 10 minutes more. Stir in the greens and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Ladle into bowls and serve with the cheese for sprinkling.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area

This soup recipe is a two-fer. It's a steaming bowl of comforting soup packed with turkey meatballs floating in a nourishing chicken broth.
Photo by Lynda Balslev

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