What’s Cooking Wednesday: Italian Wedding Soup

Wedding soup is an important, delicious Christmas tradition in my family, and even though P had never even heard of it, I made it this year as part of our Christmas festivities.

This soup has kind of an interesting history, I think, in that although many Italian-Americans know it, it’s not well-known in many parts of Italy. I’ve read that its origins are in the south (not surprising as so are those of many Italian-Americans!), particularly in Campania (the region of Naples), and that it’s name comes from the fact that the ingredients “marry well” as the Italians say . . . si sposano bene. In southern dialect this becomes “minestra maritata,” or wedding soup.

Be forewarned: from start to finish, it was a 3 and a half hour (fun-filled) journey.

My grandmother’s version of Italian wedding soup is with escarole, mini-meatballs, pasta “bubbles,” and egg drop on top, and it is so time-consuming it’s usually made only for special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Trust me, though, every minute of toiling over a hot stove is *so* worth it.

A few days ago was the first time I’ve ever made it by myself so indulge me while I give myself a big ole’ pat on the back. I tried to pay special attention to the amounts of ingredients, because all that was passed down to me were basic guidelines (see my grandmother’s original recipe for the pasta “bubbles” below). Incidentally, I’ve never seen another recipe that adds these “bubbles,” as my grandmother called them, but they do add a lot to the soup (and personal satisfaction for a job well done).

Italian Wedding Soup

(serves 8-10)

Italian wedding soup

For the broth:

1 three to four lb. chicken
Enough cold water to cover the chicken and to boil escarole
1 lb. escarole, chopped coarsely
3 stalks celery
3 white onions
2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste

For the mini-meatballs:

1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 tablespoon parsley
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying)

For the bubbles:

3 eggs
1/4 cup cold water
pinch salt
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (for frying)

or as my grandmother wrote:

Bubbles for Italian Wedding Soup
For egg drop on top:

4 eggs
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
pinch salt

1. Take the chicken (an old hen if possible) and put it in a large stock pot, covering it with cold water. Cook on medium to high heat for about an hour and a half, skimming off any white foam that surfaces.

2. At the same time, put the coarsely chopped escarole in salted water and, as my mother says, “boil the hell out of it.” Seriously, you’re not going to overcook this, so just let it cook until you’re ready to throw in into the broth.

3. In the meantime, mix together all of the meatball ingredients and make little 1/2 inch balls–about the size of a marble is what we’re looking for. Put these aside.

4. For the bubbles, beat together the egg, water, and salt, and then add the flour until you get a thick dough. If it’s sticky, add more flour. Take off chunks of the dough and make into little snakes, and then cut off 1/4 inch pieces on an angle. Keep the bubbles separated from one another by using lots of flour; they are happier this way.

5. Also in the time the chicken and escarole are cooking, clean the celery and onion. No need to chop, as you’ll be putting them in the broth whole and then taking out their biggest remaining chunks later.

6. Now you’re ready to fry the bubbles. Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan set to high heat. Add as many bubbles as comfortably fit. Once they are a light golden brown color all around, remove them and put on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

7. Fry the meatballs in the same way, browning the surface, or, if you like, you can add them directly to the broth when you add the escarole and fried bubbles.

8. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the water and let cool. Add the celery, onions, salt, and pepper to the broth, and let cook for another half hour or until you start to see that the vegetables are getting mushy. You’ll want to take out the biggest chunks, but if you like, take some of the mushiest and chop them very finely to throw back in.

9. In the meantime, clean off the chicken and put the meat back into pot, discarding bones and skin.

10. After you’ve removed the celery and onion chunks, drain the escarole and add to the broth. Also add the bubbles and meatballs. This mixture needs to cook for another half hour or so (possibly longer if you didn’t fry the meatballs). The bubbles shouldn’t be chewy but rather al dente, like any good pasta, and the meatballs should have no pink left.

11. Now we’re ready for the finishing touch: the egg drop on top. While bringing the soup to a boil, in a separate bowl, beat the egg, cheese, and salt together. Once the soup is boiling, drizzle the egg mixture over the top of soup, swirling with a fork while the egg sets. Once the eggs are cooked, your wedding soup is ready.

12. You can serve with fresh grated Pecorino if you particularly love this cheesy flavor as I do.

13. My grandmother also threw in a pasta called “Acine di Pepe,” (àh-chin-ay dee péh peh) but, um, I couldn’t find it. In Italy. Go figure.

And actually, a quick Google tells me that it’s fairly popular in something called Frog Eye Salad (anyone ever made this?) and that the Acine isn’t necessarily easy to find in every part of America either. From personal experience, if you happen to be in Northeastern/Central PA, though, you should be fine.

Anyway, any small soup pasta will do, but this time around I let the bubbles speak for themselves, and the soup was as delicious as I remembered.

Final Tips: 

If you didn’t add the bubbles, or want to add soup pasta too, cook the pasta separately, and keep separate. When serving, put the desired amount of pasta in a bowl and then put the soup on top. If you leave the pasta in the soup, the bits get really bloated, and no one’s happy bloated.

On the same note, if you’re storing leftover soup, take out the bubbles and keep them separate in the refrigerator as well; they, too, will suck up your hard-earned broth. This is assuming your pot will fit in the fridge. If you live in a climate like where I grew up, you can do like we did and keep the pot of soup on the porch for natural refrigeration–just make sure it’s actually cold enough to do so.

Because, you know, rancid wedding soup isn’t really, how you say, enjoyable.

Buon appetito!

22 Beans of Wisdom to “What’s Cooking Wednesday: Italian Wedding Soup”
  1. Karen
    12.27.2006

    Your recipes are being added to my collection weekly. I have a question about last week’s though: what is pepperoncino? Not sure if I spelled that right….

  2. sognatrice
    12.27.2006

    What an honor, thanks! The peperoncino is a chili pepper, and it’s big, big, big in Calabrian cooking. Doesn’t always make a dish spicy, but heightens the flavor. I put a link to a page about the peperoncino on the recipe page with potatoes and peppers, but I’ll probably do a whole post about it at some point. It’s quite important to us here 🙂

  3. Elle
    12.27.2006

    Honestly, you look like SUCH an amazing cook. I want to eat your blog!!

    I hope my other half never finds your blog – it would put me to shame (I cannot even boil an egg) 🙁

  4. J.Doe
    12.27.2006

    My husband (from Italy) never heard of it either, but then so much of Italian cooking is regional.
    Thanks for the recipe though.

  5. Shan
    12.28.2006

    Another yummy looking recipe. Italian Wedding soup is one of my all time faves. I don’t think I would have ever attempted to make it on my own, but thanks to your recipe I just might.

  6. Giulia
    12.28.2006

    Wow, I had to hold myself from licking my monitor!
    Funny thing about the acini di pepe…I never have a problem finding it.
    I make it for my youngest often, about three to four times a week. She loves her pastina!

  7. Gil
    12.28.2006

    I knew that there was a lot of work involved to make Italian Wedding Soup but, never realized there was so much. Sounds great! We are still eating left over lasagna and meat from the gravy.

  8. sognatrice
    12.28.2006

    So glad to see so many enjoyed this recipe!

    J Doe, yes, the cooking is regional, but this is actually a Calabrian recipe, and we live in Calabria–in the same town where my grandmother got the recipe from (her mother was born here)! I suppose it’s something that has fallen off here over the years (like many words in dialect that I know but they don’t use any more), so that while a hundred years ago (when my family left), it was made, but now they just don’t really make it. I’ll have to ask P’s mom if she knows of it.

    Anyway, for all future wedding soup makers, yes, this is a time-consuming recipe, but it’s not actually difficult. It’s soup, after all…how hard can it be? 😉

  9. lango
    05.27.2007

    Che coincidenza! I was listening to a song by an indie Canadian band called Frog Eyes when I got to this post while trying to catch up with your earlier writings.

    I’m also starting to, let’s say, broaden my cooking a bit here, and your ‘what’s cooking wednesday’s’ will be a valuable resource in that quest.

  10. sognatrice
    05.28.2007

    Coincidenza is right! Kind of gross too, on the frog eye thing 😉

    Anyway, there are a lot of recipes here much simpler than this…the most recent for refreshing summer pasta salad is one of my favorites 🙂

  11. This is my variation of a standard recipe. I like fresh basil and a little lemon rind, so those are basically my only changes. This is a quick and easy soup with flavors that impress all. My sons have always loved the Progresso version of this soup. This soup is now one of our family favorites.

    Definitely one of my family’s favorites too…never had the Progresso version, but I do generally like their stuff, actually.

  12. 08.12.2008

    I’ve only tried Italian wedding soup from a can and lets just say there is much left to be desired. I’m actually interested in attempting the recipe you have posted though because it looks so different and tasty as opposed to the canned variety. I’ll keep you posted and let you know how it goes, thanks!

    Oh Nadia, I haven’t had canned wedding soup but homemade *has* to be better; it’s one of my all-time favorites 🙂 Keep me posted!

  13. Lisa novakoski
    02.14.2010

    Chelle, I’m w friends and we are trying to locate the Italian name for “bubbles.” Is there such a thing? Lots of love from ur fellow Coal Regioner:-p

    It’s a great question, Lisa…the word bubbles is “bolle” (bohl-leh) or “bolle d’aria” if you talking about air bubbles (bolle di sapone for soap bubbles) but I haven’t found anyone that actually puts *these* bubbles in the soup here, so I’m not sure what they would call them regarding the soup…it’s a mystery to me…maybe bolle di pasta? Boh.

  14. Julie C
    09.10.2010

    This is the first time I have seen a recipe that is very similar to our “Che-Ghe” soup (pronouced cheegee) and the bubbles we call cheghees. The cheegees are made the same as you said. We don’t add meat to the broth, but we add escarole and eggs dropped in just as in your recipe. Our recipe came from my grandmother who was from the Marche region of Italy, but we have never found anyone else who makes anything even close. Glad to find someone else out there that knows what work is involved with making this but how rewarding. We, too, only make this for special occasions.

    Oh that’s so interesting Julie! Thanks so much for coming by and sharing 🙂 And now I’m hungry for wedding soup….

  15. 10.25.2010

    I make soups a lot , this sounds a lot to do, but I am sure when we have made it once we will think it is easy.

    I take canned soup to work as a convienience if I have not made anything before hand for my lunch ..I have Italian Wedding soup in my cupboard , ok not quite as tasty as homemade soup but it sure fills the gap . 🙂

  16. 10.25.2010

    The last truckstop-restaurant where I worked used to occasionally serve Italian Wedding Soup -not homemade, of course -but we purchased it from our supplier, frozen and it was actually pretty decent. (No egg drop on top of it though.) And the tiny pasta you mention, I see it here in this part of central PA on the store shelves a lot. Speaking of regional foods -but not Italian -did the cooks in your part of PA ever make a dish called Ham and Bean Potpie? It’s very much like bean soup but thicker with homemade dumpling-like noodles in it? We used to make and serve that at the truckstop too and it was super good -a big seller. I got the recipe and make it for my family -if it’s a big gathering -or I make it a lot to take to church dinners too.
    I’d like to try this soup sometime -kind of sounds like it’s a bit like making the ham/bean potpie -time consuming but not really terribly difficult to put together.

  17. Leslie
    10.25.2010

    My mother makes Frog Eye Salad for almost every occasion, for as long as I can remember!!!!

  18. madonnadelpiatto
    10.25.2010

    Hi Michelle, this is a fantastic dish and even though I am Italian I have also never had it.
    The Italian wedding soup is the American version of the Neapolitan “minestra maritata”. The bubbles is an adaptation of pasta cresciuta, fried bread dough which was sold as a street food in the Naples but available in many other areas. Typically the soup is based on inexpensive ingredients, minced meat, vegetables, fried dough, eggs, artfully combined to make a special dish which was generally served for Christmas and not for marriages. In fact “maritata” indicates the marriage of meat and vegetables rather than of people!

    Originally the soup was made with wild herbs and meat trimmings like pork ears. I much prefer the version with meatballs, thank you for sharing your family recipe!

  19. Acine are also easy to find in NY – where it’s loaded with Italians. Funny thing though – I’ve never seen this served at any Italian wedding, have you?

  20. Cristina
    10.26.2010

    Your recipe looks great. it’s definitely not Pugliese, and i don’t know any italians in Canada who make it or have even heard of it. i’ve only seen it in the cafeteria of the hospital where i work (yuk). I’ll have to try your version!

  21. Cheryl
    11.28.2010

    Hi, I was searching for Italian wedding soup with ‘bubbles.’ So happy to find your recipe on here. My grandmother was from Calabria and this is how she made her soup, as does my mother. I wanted to try to make the bubbles myself in a small batch and came upon your recipe. My mother makes a huge batch of bubbles around Christmas time and tells me I need huge pots of oil. I contemplated buying a deep fryer only for my “once a year” bubbles but thought that there must be another way to fry them. Happy to see that I can do them in a frying pan. Thanks for posting! I didn’t want to call my mother to hear that I needed to go out and purchase a huge pot! =)

    Haha glad to be of help Cheryl! Recently I’ve heard from someone else who also put in bubbles, only they were called “jiggers.” Too funny!

  22. 03.21.2011

    I first tasted Italian Wedding Soup on a visit to the USA a couple of years ago. Loved it! Thanks so much for sharing your recipe.

    Glad you enjoyed!

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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