Food, Yoga and Travel in Brooklyn
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As I’ve moved and settled, the pending fall weather has left me a bit giddy. Thoughts of winter food, hot yoga when it’s not so hot out, good hugs and red wine are leaving me happy. As the weather has been dipping, my mood has been elevating. I feel a new, warm chapter in my life starting. Things are good and tonight, with promises of thunderstorms and lightening, I wanted nothing more than to skip the gym, cuddle up in a sweater and make soup.
So I did.
But, when the day started, I was torn. I woke up wanting to get snuggly this evening but I wasn’t sure if I was 100% ready to commit to a winter’s meal with a creamy/potato-y soup. I toyed with a tortilla soup but knew I would need re-enforcements.
Because I have a bad habit of trying to cook the things I never liked as a child, I landed on Zuppa Maritata or “wedding soup”. As a kid, the green stuff always grossed me out. Now, well, we will see. For now, I am pleased recipe.
Traditionally served at holidays or on wedding nights, it means “to wed” which stems from the marriage of the vegetable base to the polpette (meat balls). I learned a bit from my good kitchen angel Lydia Bastianich, who made sure to point out that it offers a balanced meal giving newlyweds ‘reinforcements’, as well as my grandmother who was slapping my hands from the heaven above telling me those meatballs where just too damn big. My father’s voice also made an appearance commenting on the meatball size. So after about a dozen, I went a bit smaller. I fear they are still too big but overall, things don’t look too bad for a first try.
I of course did things a bit differently, mainly because I refuse to cook soup in anything by my red Le Creuset stockpot. Generally, I’m about 1/3 of the way through a soup recipe and realize it won’t fit. I subsequently cut the recipe in half. Because I’m dealing with soup, it works.
Below is the original recipe which can also be found here. I used approximately 4 ½ quarts of liquid (1 of which was homemade chicken stock), and half the greens and fennel. Everything else remained the same. While I do not have provola for the finishing touch, I do have a fresh hunk of scamorza from Di Palo’s that will be making it into my lunch box tomorrow.
Enjoy! (Apologies on the lack of photos lately. I have terrible kitchen light which I am still getting used to. A new camera is on the horizon which will hopefully take things to a new level!)
For the vegetable soup
1 medium onion, cut in chunks
2 medium stalks, celery with leaves, cut in chunks
1 small carrot, cut in chunks
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
7 quarts cold water
1 head escarole, about 1 pound, cut into 1/2-inch shreds
1 bunch Swiss chard, about 1 pound, cut into 1/2-inch shreds
1 large fennel bulb, about 1 pound, trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 small zucchini)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
For the meatballs
4 ounces stale country bread, crusts removed (about 3 or 4 slices)
½ cup milk, or more as needed
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, (without fennel seeds)
1 large egg, beaten
½ teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Pecorino cheese, freshly grated, plus more for passing
extra-virgin olive oil, best quality
½ pound provola, cut in 1/4-inch cubes
Using the food processor, mince onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and basil into a smooth paste (pestata).
Heat the olive oil in the soup pot over high heat, and scrape in the pestata. Cook, stirring until the pestata has dried out and just begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Pour the cold water into the pot, stir up the pestata, put on the cover, and bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer the broth for about 15 minutes, blending the flavors, then stir in the greens, the fennel, the zucchini, and the 2 tablespoons salt. Return to the simmer, and cook covered for 45 minutes or so, until the greens are tender. Remove the cover, and cook at an active simmer for another 45 minutes or longer, until the soup has reduced in volume and the flavors are concentrated to your taste.
While the soup simmers, prepare the meatballs. Tear the bread into chunks, put them in a small bowl, and pour in just enough milk to cover them. Let soak for a few minutes, until completely saturated, then lift the bread out of the bowl and squeeze out the milk in your fists (use the milk for another purpose). Tear the moistened bread into shreds, and toss them into a large bowl.
Remove the sausage meat from the casing, and crumble it in with the shredded bread, breaking up any meat clumps with your fingers. Pour the beaten egg over the meat, and sprinkle the salt, freshly ground black pepper, and parsley on top. Fold and toss and squeeze all the ingredients through your fingers to distribute them evenly. Scoop up a small amount of the meat mix-about a heaping teaspoon- and roll it in your palms to form a 1-inch ball (the size of a large grape). Continue to form balls until all the meat is used up.
Meanwhile, fill the 4-quart saucepan with 3 quarts of lightly salted water to poach the meatballs, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the meatballs, cover the pot, and return the water to a boil quickly. Adjust the heat to keep the water simmering gently, and poach the meatballs, uncovered, about 5 minutes, until cooked through. Lift them out with a spider or strainer, let drain briefly, and drop them into the finished soup (discard the poaching water).
Bring the soup to a simmer, and cook meatballs and soup together for about 5 minutes. (If you’ll be serving the soup later, put the meatballs in a bowl. Reheat them in the soup, and simmer 5 minutes just before serving.)
Turn off the heat, and ladle the soup, with plenty of vegetables and meatballs, into warm bowls. Sprinkle each serving with some of the grated cheese, and give it a drizzle of your best olive oil. Serve right away, passing more cheese at the table.
If you are adding provola to the soup drop in the cubes just after the meatballs have simmered in it and you’ve turned off the heat. Give the soup one good stir to distribute the provola pieces, which will begin to melt right away, and immediately ladle individual portions into your warm bowls. (Don’t leave the provola in the soup pot for a long time before serving, because it will become stringy.)