Warm up your soul with a hearty bowl of Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole, a classic dish that’s packed with flavor and comfort. Savory broth along with homemade meatballs and veggies make this soup a true crowd-pleaser.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Hearty and flavorful: This Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole is packed with protein and vegetables, making it a satisfying and nutritious meal for the chilly days of fall and winter. The combination of ground beef, escarole, and chicken stock creates a rich and flavorful broth that is sure to please everyone at the table.
- Easy to Prepare: The recipe is accessible for cooks of all skill levels.
- Perfect for a crowd: This soup is a great way to feed a large group of people. It can be easily doubled or tripled to accommodate a bigger crowd, and it reheats well, so you can enjoy leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.
What is Italian Wedding Soup?
This recipe was a staple at our family restaurant for years, and it was a favorite soup among our customers. It’s a traditional soup that features a delicious combination of hearty meatballs, usually made from ground beef or a mix of meats, and leafy greens such as escarole or spinach.
Its name is a bit of a misnomer as it doesn’t actually relate to weddings. It’s derived from a mistranslation of the Italian phrase “minestra maritata,” which literally translates to “married soup.” The “marriage” in this context refers to the perfect flavor combination and compatibility of green leafy vegetables and meat in the soup, not to an actual wedding ceremony.
The soup’s origins can be traced back to the peasant kitchens of Italy. Over time, the soup made its way to the United States, where it was given its misleading name.
Seasonings: Minced garlic cloves, Italian herbs, salt, and pepper are the basic seasonings needed to make the meatballs.
Breadcrumbs and milk: Breadcrumbs and milk are combined into a paste called “panade” that helps to bind the meatballs but keeps them flavorful and moist.
Eggs: You’ll need 1 egg for the meatballs and 2 other eggs that are mixed together with the parmesan cheese to give the soup flavor and texture.
Ground Beef: Our family typically uses 80/20 ground beef, but many people like to mix half ground pork and half ground beef.
Onion, Carrots, and Celery: These veggies together are known as “mirepoix” in French cooking. Mirepoix is the basis of many soups and stews.
Escarole: This leafy green vegetable brings a slightly bitter taste, which helps balance the richness of the meatballs.
Chicken Stock: One of our favorite stocks to use is Kitchen Basics, but you can certainly use your favorite or make your own homemade stock.
Acini di Pepe: Our family uses acini di pepe, which are tiny pasta pearls that add a delightful texture and make the soup more filling and enjoyable. The name translates to “peppercorns” in English. You can also use other types of small pasta such as orzo or pastina.
Parmesan cheese: Freshly grated parmesan will taste best in this soup. We like to grate extra to top off our individual bowls of soup.
For full ingredients and measurements see the recipe card below.
Step 1: Mix together the breadcrumbs, milk, garlic, 1 of the eggs, and seasonings with the ground beef. Once mixed, roll the meatball mixture into mini meatballs.
Step 2: Sear the meatballs in a skillet with olive oil. Once browned on all sides, set the meatballs aside on a plate.
Step 3: Saute the mirepoix in a large stock pot with olive oil, salt, and pepper over medium heat. Add the escarole, chicken stock, and acini di pepe to the pot and simmer.
Step 4: While the soup is simmering, whisk together parmesan cheese and eggs in a small bowl.
Step 5: Add the egg mixture to the soup. Allow the egg to set slightly, then stir to break up and allow to finish cooking.
- To ensure tender and moist meatballs in your soup, start by creating a panade: mix breadcrumbs with milk to form a soft, paste-like mixture. This panade, when added to the ground beef, helps prevent the little meatballs from becoming dense or dry, resulting in a deliciously soft texture.
- For an added depth of savory flavor in your soup, toss in a leftover Parmesan rind into the soup during the simmering process. The rind slowly releases a rich, cheesy essence into the broth, enhancing the overall taste profile. Whenever I use up a parmesan wedge, I’ll save the rinds in a ziplock bag in the freezer to add to soups like this one.
- When reheating your soup, be prepared to add more chicken broth. The acini di pepe pasta tends to absorb the broth as it sits, so adding extra broth while reheating can help maintain the soup’s consistency and ensure it remains just as delicious as when it was first served.
While we enjoy an escarole soup, there are several suitable substitutes that you can try. Two of the most common options are:
Kale: Kale is a hearty green with a slightly bitter taste that can be a good substitute for escarole. It is important to chop the kale into small pieces to avoid a tough texture.
Spinach: Spinach is a mild-flavored green that can be used as a substitute for escarole if you prefer a less bitter soup. It cooks much more quickly than heartier greens like kale.
It pairs wonderfully with a variety of side dishes that complement its rich and hearty flavors. A crusty Italian bread or garlic knots are perfect for soaking up the savory broth.
And, a crisp, Caesar salad, chopped Italian salad, or kale salad dressed in a light vinaigrette offers a fresh contrast to the soup’s richness.
Italian Wedding Soup is a hearty dish with lots of flavor that calls for a wine that can complement its rich and savory flavors. For reds, I really like a good Barbera, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel.
If you prefer white wine, something like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc would work well.
Ultimately, the best wine pairing is a matter of personal preference. Experiment with different styles and varieties to find what you enjoy most.
The most common type of pasta used in this soup is acini di pepe, which is our favorite pasta to use. Other small pasta shapes that can be used include ditalini, orzo, and even tiny stars or alphabet pasta.
No matter which type of pasta you use, make sure to add it to the soup towards the end of the cooking time, as it will only take a few minutes to cook through. Overcooking the pasta will make it mushy and unpleasant to eat.
This Italian Wedding Soup with escarole should be stored in an airtight container. It is important to store the soup in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking. Leftovers should be consumed within 4 days.
If you know that you won’t be consuming the soup right away, it’s advisable to store the pasta separately if possible, as it can absorb too much broth and become overly soft. To reheat, do so gently on the stove or in the microwave, and if you’ve stored the pasta separately, add it back to individual portions. This method ensures the soup maintains its flavor and texture, making for enjoyable leftovers.
Freezing requires a bit of preparation to maintain its quality. First, let the soup cool after cooking. It’s best to freeze the soup without the pasta, as pasta can become mushy when thawed; cook it fresh when you’re ready to serve.
Portion the soup into freezer-safe containers or bags, leaving some space at the top for expansion. Label each container with the date, and the soup can be stored in the freezer for up to 2-3 months.
When you’re ready to enjoy it, thaw the soup overnight in the refrigerator and reheat it on the stove or in the microwave, adding freshly cooked pasta to preserve the soup’s texture and flavor.
As we mentioned before, we typically go with ground beef (usually 80/20), but many people like a combination of ground beef and ground pork. This combination provides the perfect balance of flavor, fat, and texture. The ground beef adds a rich, beefy flavor, while the ground pork adds a bit of sweetness and fattiness that helps to keep the meatballs moist and tender.
If you want to make turkey meatballs, keep in mind they might be slightly drier than other meatballs that use different ground meats. To offset the dryness, you can try 50% ground turkey and 50% ground beef or pork.
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Italian Wedding Soup with Escarole Recipe
- ½ cup breadcrumbs (panko or regular)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus extra to taste)
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper (plus extra to taste)
- 3 large eggs (divided)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (light-tasting)
- 1 medium onion (chopped)
- 2 medium carrots (peeled and chopped)
- 2 medium celery ribs (chopped)
- 1 head escarole (chopped)
- 8 cups chicken stock (or broth)
- 1 cup acini di pepe (uncooked)
- ½ cup parmesean cheese (shredded)
- In a large bowl, add the breadcrumbs and milk and allow to soak for a few minutes. Then, mix in the garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and 1 egg. Add the ground meat and mix until just combined. Roll the meat mixture into small meatballs.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Cook meatballs, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes. Meatballs might not be cooked through at this point, but they will finish cooking in soup. Set meatballs aside.
- Heat another 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add onion, carrots, and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Saute vegetables for 7-10 minutes.
- Add the escarole, chicken stock, meatballs, and acini di peppi. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes.
- While the soup is simmering, whisk together the remaining eggs and Parmesan cheese. Once the soup is finished simmering, drizzle the egg and cheese mixture into the soup. Wait at least 30 seconds until the egg begins to set, then stir to allow the egg mixture to break up.
- Season with more salt, pepper, and/or extra Parmesan, if desired. Serve immediately.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking, and consume them within 4 days. If you’re storing for meal prepping, cook and store pasta separately to prevent it from becoming overly soft.
- For freezing, cool the soup, portion into freezer-safe containers, and store for up to 2-3 months. Reheat on the stove or microwave.
- When reheating, add more chicken broth to compensate for acini di pepe pasta absorbing liquid, ensuring the soup’s consistency remains.