The soup: a garlic-infused chicken broth, enhanced with sauteed escarole, embracing a flotilla of small, tender, lemon-spiked meatballs.
The earworm: "Cotton candy sweet and low, let me see that ES-CA-ROLE! That es-ca-role! To the left, to the left, to the right, to the right…" Here, enjoy it for yourself.
Anyway. This is not a soup you're going to whip up in 20 minutes on a night when you're too tired to see straight. This is more of a soup for an evening when you're pretty enthusiastic about screwing around in the kitchen, chopping a little of this and zesting a little of that (pref. with your MICROPLANE!), ultimately producing a soup that everyone at the table will demand seconds of. One of my favorites so far in this project, I think.
Inspired by, and in fact taken almost directly from, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian
(but I think he calls it "Meatball Soup with Escarole" or something. Nuh-uh. It's Italian Freaking Wedding Soup.).
Italian Wedding Soup
Serves eight (or four with seconds)
For the meatballs:
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (put a couple of slices good bread in the food processor, chop them best you can, then fish out the big recalcitrant pieces and measure 1/2 cup of small crumbs)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 pound finely ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbsp freshly and finely grated Parmesan cheese (get the good stuff!)
6 sage leaves, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp salt
A few grinds of black pepper
For the rest of the soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 bunch (about 1 pound) escarole, washed and dried and roughly chopped
8 cups strong delicious chicken stock or broth
Additional salt and pepper to taste–maybe. I didn't need any more salt, and I'm usually kind of a salt freak.
Still more freshly grated top-quality Parmesan cheese
To make the meatballs (aren't they cute?): Place bread crumbs in a small bowl. Pour milk over crumbs and allow to stand while you beat/mince/zest everything else. Combine other ingredients in a large bowl; gently squeeze breadcrumbs to remove some of the liquid; add to other ingredients and mix very thoroughly with your hands. Roll mixture into smallish balls, about 2 tsp each, and place on a baking sheet (or, more likely, a pair of baking sheets). Keep your hands wet with cold water during this process to forestall sticking. When all meatballs are made, place baking sheets in the refrigerator and allow to chill while you're making the soup; this will help keep them from falling apart when you add them to the simmering broth.
To make the soup: Heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Don't let it burn! Add escarole and cook, stirring near-constantly, until collapsed, about 3 minutes. Add broth; bring to a boil; cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
At end of simmering period, gently and delicately (!) add meatballs to soup. I found this easiest to do by scooping them up, six or so at a time, with a broad-bladed spatula. Do not stir! They are very fragile at this point and are just looking for an excuse to break up, kind of like that one guy in high school who hadn't yet realized he was gay and ended up trampling on your heart. (Whoops… TMI?) Let them cook, unstirred, for about 3 minutes. Then you can stir, ever so gently, and only once or twice. Keep liquid at a barest simmer until meatballs are just cooked through, about six more minutes.
Ladle soup into warmed shallow bowls and top each serving with some delicious nutty grated Parmesan. Serve with baguette slices and maybe a little more cheese–we had Maytag Blue, which perhaps didn't technically complement the soup but which was delicious nonetheless.
I feel a whoop comin' on, a whoop comin' on…