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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup: Minestra Maritata

So why exactly is it called Italian Wedding Soup? 

If you have the sort of mind like mine, where you have to know these sorts of things, it's because the ingredients go so well together that they are said to be married, or maritata.  I love the idea of a traditional soup eaten at Italian weddings, but sadly that's a no-go.  Too bad:  I had a wonderful image of a raucous Italian wedding party, sitting on a hillside near a vineyard, doling out ladlefuls of this soup.  Sigh.

As the weather gets rainier and we slide toward fall, my thoughts turn naturally toward steamy, chunky bowls of soup.  What--yours don't?  This soup has the added advantage of being chock-full of vegetables and reasonably healthy.  Even my toughest critic, Ingrid, seated herself at the table in anticipation.

No, she doesn't get to eat people food, but she thinks she should.
Another advantage of this soup is that it goes together fast, making it perfect for a weeknight.  It was also a great excuse to use two of my favorite ingredients, fresh Italian chicken sausage and pepperoncini peppers.

Minestra Maritata
Adapted from A16 Food + Wine
1 bunch Swiss chard
1/2 head Napa cabbage
2 celery stalks
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried red chile flakes, or 1 small red pepperoncino pepper
1 lb. fresh chicken sausage, chopped into small chunks
6 plus cups of low-sodium chicken broth
Optional:  good-quality parmesan for grating

Start a large pot of water boiling with a pinch of salt.  I recommend using a stockpot or other heavy-bottomed pot.

Slice the stems away from the leaves of the Swiss chard.  Roughly chop both the leaves and the stems, but keep them in separate piles because they have different cooking times.

Roughly chop the Napa cabbage into small chunks and set aside.  Dice the two stalks of celery.

Once the water is boiling, add the chard stems and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until firm but not tough.  Remove the stems with a wire strainer or a slotted spoon, drain and set aside.  Then add the chard leaves, and cook for a scant 3 minutes until just wilted.  Lift those from the water with the same strainer, drain and set aside.  Finally, add the cabbage and cook for 3 minutes.  Likewise, lift the cabbage out of the water, drain and set aside.  The cooked vegetables are combined from this time forward, so you can have them all together.

Drain the pot and give it a rinse.  Put it back on medium heat and add all of the olive oil.  When the oil is warmed, add the celery, garlic, bay leaf and red pepper.  Stir occasionally until the garlic is just golden and starting to soften.

Add the chunks of sausage and stir until browned and they renders their fat.  Then add the greens and 4 cups of chicken broth to start.  If your soup, like mine, looks like more stew than soup and you want a brothier mix, add stock to the desired consistency.  Taste the soup to see what it needs:  I added a sprinkle of fresh-ground black pepper.

Cook for 5 minutes and remove from heat.  This is especially good if served in warm bowls with a sprinkling of good parmesan melted over it.

Serves 4-6 as a main course;  up to 8 as a first course or appetizer. 

Recommended side:  Sauteed zucchini with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  I also made "croutons" with chunks of two-day old, toasted baguette.

Suggested wine pairing:  Rosé, gewurtztraminer, or bone-dry riesling.

1 comment:

  1. Mmm! That looks delicious! I may have to surprise James with some Italian wedding soup sometime soon - thanks for the inspiration!