Published March 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
A super-flavorful soup enriched with meatballs and tender greens? Sounds like a match made in heaven. But we didn’t want to spend all day creating it.
Most recipes seem to call for nothing more than simmering a few cans of broth, adding some ersatz “meatballs” in the form of dollops of Italian sausage, dumping in a bag of greens, and dusting it all with grated Parmesan.
We wanted an elegant, satisfying soup that tasted of far more work than we had invested.
Traditionally, Italian wedding soup is built from a long-cooked base of meaty brodo, brewed from hard-to-find cuts of cured meat. But we hoped that with the right collection of meats, aromatics, and flavorings, we could render store-bought broth into something resembling a classic brodo in the time it would take to prepare meatballs.
For a well-rounded base, we used a combination of chicken and beef broths cut with a little water. Some basic aromatics, a fennel bulb, and a sharpening splash of dry white wine boosted its complexity. For meatiness, we turned to the ground meat we planned to use in our meatballs. We lightly browned some of the meat along with the aromatics before adding the broth. It cooked quickly and clearly amplified the broth’s meatiness. One final addition—stirring in glutamate-rich porcini mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce—gave us a full afternoon’s worth of flavor in just 30 minutes.
Next, we addressed the meatballs. Italians traditionally use ground beef, pork, and veal. But as important as its gelatin is to the meatballs’ texture, ground veal is hard to find. To mimic veal’s attributes, we took two measures. First, we included baking powder, which ensured that the meatballs remained light once cooked. Next, we whipped the ground pork in a stand mixer until it formed a smooth emulsion before adding the binder, seasonings, and ground beef. This common sausage-making technique evenly distributed the pork’s fat and moisture so that the meatballs remained juicy and pleasingly supple when we cooked them in the flavorful broth.
Only two components remained: the greens and the pasta. Kale’s meaty texture and assertive flavor was the best fit, while tiny bite-size pasta, like ditalini, provided the best texture. To avoid mushy pasta, we added it at the last minute and tested it frequently.list of recipes