The Original Italian Wedding Soup

Minestra maritata (The Original Italian “Wedding Soup”)

In Campania, piatti unici by Frank Fariello24 Comments

Wedding soup” is a popular Italian-American dish made with escarole and tiny meatballs simmered in chicken broth and adorned with small pasta, typically of the tiny acini di pepe (or “peppercorn”) type. It is so popular, in fact, that it has been marketed as a canned soup by Progresso under the funny name “Chickarina Soup“. Italian-Americans of a certain age will doubtlessly remember this jingle:

Chick chick chickarina soup!
Chick chick chickarina soup!
With noodles so delicious
And meatballs so nutritious
Mmmm boy, it’s good!

Well, the ancestor of this familiar, homey Italian-American classic, the original Italian Wedding Soup, is an ancient Neapolitan soup called minestra maritata, which actually means “married soup”, not wedding soup, and refers to the ‘marriage’ of meats and green leafy vegetables that comprise its main ingredients. Some say the recipe goes all the way back to ancient Roman times and was made from various leftover scraps of cured and fresh meats (traditionally pork) and a mixture of leafy greens that could be bought in the market or scavenged from the countryside. Minestra maritata is cheap but tasty and very filling, a perfect example of la cucina povera, the cooking of the poor, the kind of stick-to-the-ribs eating that fueled hard-working, hard-scrabble contadini (farmers) and operai (workers) back in the day. It’s the kind of thing that was once looked down on by urban middle and upper class Italians but has lately become very chic, both in Italy and all over the world.

For me the definitive recipe for minestra maritata can be found in the cookbook La cucina napoletana by Jeanne Caròla Francesconi, the doyenne of Neapolitan cookery. The only problem in trying to replicate her recipe outside Italy (or, for that matter, outside Campania) is that it calls for a good number of typical local meats and vegetables well-nigh impossible to find elsewhere, like broccoli di foglia (‘leaf broccoli’), torzella, another kind of local leafy cruciferous vegetable, or scarolella, a local ‘wild’ escarole. And some of the meats, like lardo, can be found but only in the best stocked Italian delis, at a steep price. So I’ve tried to ‘translate’ the original Italian Wedding Soup recipe by substituting reasonably priced ingredients that should be fairly easy to find in a well-stocked in US supermarket and—I hope—elsewhere. And feel free to experiment with ingredients other than the ones I’ve suggested here; this is a poor person’s dish, so if you use what you can find locally, you will simply be carrying on an old tradition.

Italian Wedding Soup is very simple and basic, but it takes a bit of time to make, in particular the initial simmering of the meat, which needs a good 2-1/2 or 3 hours. But the simmering doesn’t require much attention and the dish itself can easily be made ahead of time. Or you can start and stop at various stages as your schedule allows.

Ingredients

Serves a crowd (at least 4-6 people)

The meats:

  • 750g (1-1/2 lbs) of pork ribs
  • 350g (3/4 lb) salt pork (or, if you can find it, lardo)
  • 3-4 large mild Italian sausages (about 500g/1 lb.)
  • 1 large salami
  • Salt and pepper
  • Aromatics to flavor the broth (see Notes)
  • Unsmoked pork rind (optional)
  • A prosciutto bone (optional)

The vegetables:

  • 1 head of escarole. trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 head of chicory, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 small head of green cabbage, trimmed and sliced thin
  • 1 bunch of broccoli rabe, trimmed and roughly chopped

To finish the dish:

  • 150g (8 oz) of Parmesan, caciocavallo and/or another hard cheese, cut into cubes (see Notes)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Blanch the salt pork for a few minutes in unsalted water to remove the excess saltiness.

Add the salt pork and other meats to a large pot and cover by at least 5cm/2 inches with water. Francesconi says that the water should cover the meats by ‘four fingers’, if you want to measure that way…

Cover meats with water

Salt the water lightly and bring the pot to a simmer, skimming carefully to remove the scum that will rise to the top. Then add your aromatics. Continue simmering for about 2-1/2 or 3 hours, until the meats are very tender and the broth is flavorful.

Add aromatics

Let the soup cool, if possible overnight in the fridge. The fat will have risen to the top of the pot and solidify. Remove most (but not all) of the fat, then bring the pot back to the simmer. Fish out the meats and aromatics with a slotted spoon. Discard the aromatics.

Cooked meats

Pull the pork off the ribs and cut up the other meats into bite-sized chunks and set aside, with a ladleful of the broth to keep it moist.

Fill another large pot with water, salt very lightly and bring to the boil.  Chop or slice your vegetables and throw them into the boiling water.

Blanching the veggies

As soon as the water comes back to the boil, drain them in a colander, rinse with cold water and then, using a spatula or wooden spoon (or even your hands) press out as much water as you can.

Add these blanched vegetables to the broth along with the cubed cheese. Mix and bring it all to a simmer. Let the pot cook gently for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. About 10 minutes or so before the vegetables are done, add back the meats.

Veggies cooking

Serve hot, with crusty bread and, for those who like it, some additional grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

Minestra Maritata (The Original Italian Wedding Soup)

Notes

 The mix of meats and vegetables here, as well as the proportions, are really just guideposts. Feel free to personalize the soup by mix and matching meats that you like, add more or less of this or that. In today’s market, for example, they were out of chicory, so I made due with a combination of the other green veggies. If you can’t find broccoli rabe, feel free to use regular broccoli. And you can try out others that strike your fancy; I’ve read that collard greens are very nice in this soup, for example. As for the meats, other types of cured pork can substitute, although I would stay away from smoked meats, which would give the soup an uncharacteristic taste. In fact, some versions of the dish call for other meats, like chicken and beef, even if, to my mind, pork is what gives this dish its unique character.

And, by the way, Francesconi suggests serving the meats in a separate bowl, so each diner can add as much or as little meat as they would like. I prefer to mix things up—and I would are say, that’s the more usual practice.

Francesconi does not specify the aromatics, but I generally use the typical ones for Italian broths: an onion or two, two carrots, two celery stalks, plus a few sprigs of fresh parsley.

As for the cheeses, Parmesan is always part of the mix. Francesconi suggests a mixture of half Parmesan and half caciocavallo, a very typical Neapolitan cheese that you can usually find in the US in Italian delis. But if you can’t find caciocavallo, you can use another sharpish semi-hard cheese like provolone (also from Campania) or pecorino. I’ve also seen recipes that call for Parmesan only.

Minestra maritata is a soup, but this original Italian Wedding Soup so hearty it’s really a one-course meal or piatto unico. I’d follow it with a piece of fruit, nothing more.

Minestra maritata (The Original “Wedding Soup”)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 4 hours

Total Time: 5 hours

Yield: Serves a crowd, at least 4-6 persons

Minestra maritata (The Original “Wedding Soup”)

Ingredients

    The meats:
  • 750g (1-1/2 lbs) of pork ribs
  • 350g (3/4 lb) salt pork (or, if you can find it, lardo)
  • 3-4 large mild Italian sausages (about 500g/1 lb.)
  • 1 large salami
  • Salt and pepper
  • Aromatics to flavor the broth (see Notes)
  • Unsmoked pork rind (optional)
  • A prosciutto bone (optional)
  • The vegetables:
  • 1 head of escarole. trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 head of chicory, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 small head of green cabbage, trimmed and sliced thin
  • 1 bunch of broccoli rabe, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • To finish the dish:
  • 150g (8 oz) of Parmesan, caciocavallo and/or another hard cheese, cut into cubes (see Notes)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Blanch the salt pork for a few minutes in unsalted water to remove the excess saltiness.
  2. Add the salt pork and other meats to a large pot and cover by at least 5cm/2 inches with water. Francesconi says that the water should cover the meats by 'four fingers', if you want to measure that way...
  3. Salt the water lightly and bring the pot to a simmer, skimming carefully to remove the scum that will rise to the top. Then add your aromatics. Continue simmering for about 2-1/2 or 3 hours, until the meats are very tender and the broth is flavorful.
  4. Let the soup cool, if possible overnight in the fridge. The fat will have risen to the top of the pot and solidify. Remove most (but not all) of the fat, then bring the pot back to the simmer. Fish out the meats and aromatics with a slotted spoon. Discard the aromatics.
  5. Pull the pork off the ribs and cut up the other meats into bite-sized chunks and set aside, with a ladleful of the broth to keep it moist.
  6. Fill another large pot with water, salt very lightly and bring to the boil. Chop or slice your vegetables and throw them into the boiling water.
  7. As soon as the water comes back to the boil, drain them in a colander, rinse with cold water and then, using a spatula or wooden spoon (or even your hands) press out as much water as you can.
  8. Add these blanched vegetables to the broth along with the cubed cheese. Mix and bring it all to a simmer. Let the pot cook gently for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. About 10 minutes or so before the vegetables are done, add back the meats.
  9. Serve hot, with crusty bread and, for those who like it, some additional grated Parmesan cheese on the side.
Schema/Recipe SEO Data Markup by ZipList Recipe Plugin
http://memoriediangelina.com/2013/02/03/minestra-maritata-the-original-wedding-soup/
Frank FarielloMinestra maritata (The Original Italian “Wedding Soup”)

Comments

  1. Domenica Marchetti

    Glad I stopped by to see this soup post Frank. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever made a real minestra maritata, although I do make chicken soup with tiny meatballs and greens tossed in. As you know, I adore soup and this one looks perfect for these dreary days we’ve been having in our area. You mention the wild escarole. There are other wild greens that they have over in Italy that I wish we could find here. One of my favorites is orapi, a type of wild spinach. It may be that such greens (or similar ones) do exist, but alas, I am not a forager. At least not yet.

    1. Frank Fariello

      You know, I remember seeing foragers close by the house when we were living just outside Rome. I really liked the idea of learning how to recognize wild edible greens but never did. I bet you could find some really fine greens here if you knew what to look for.

  2. Claudia

    This is somewhat close to my grandmother’s (all that pork but don’t remember the salami). And serving it separately. I am loving the history – and of course this recipe is so different than what I make (all those tiresome little meatballs). Because Grandma never wrote down a recipe. She cooked what she learned from her mother and everything is guesswork now. This is a Sunday Soup for the ages and needs to find a home (my home!) in Minnesota!

  3. italianmamachef

    Thank you for an information post about this soup. I’m going to be making the “wedding soup” with a class and now you have made my job of researching the recipe’s history that much easier! I’m going to experiment around with this traditional recipe over the Italian-American one.

    1. Frank Fariello

      You’re welcome! I actually like both the original and the Italian-American version, but the original is really something special. Very bold flavors and very hearty.

  4. Nuts about food

    I had never heard of wedding soup before I started reading blogs and up to this day wondered with my husband where the recipe originated and why they called it that, as it is never really served in Italy, at least not in the north to my knowledge. Thank you for giving us a long-awaited answer!

  5. Ciaochowlinda

    Leave it to you – the food historian – to dig deeply into the background of this dish. It’s a lot different from what we commonly think of as ” wedding soup.” And yes, Frank, you can come to the next dinner. There’s an open invitation whenever you’re anywhere near Princeton.

  6. Leonardo Ciampa

    ‘A menesta co’ ‘a pizz’ e’ pulenta is one of the most prized winter dishes in Avellino. Where Apice is a mere stone’s throw from Avellino, I was hoping at some point you’d post a recipe for this! Your recipe is very similar to one that a cousin of mine once shared with me. So I attest to its authenticity. Bravo! Regarding the pizza di polenta, I’m not sure what this consisted of, but I believe it was slices of polenta, fried in a cast iron pan which had been periodically treated with lard.

    1. Frank Fariello

      I’ll have to try that polenta some time. Angelina also like to make polenta from time to time. My grandfather (who was from a little town close to Bari in Puglia) developed a taste for polenta when he was up North as a soldier during the war. (We’re talking about WWI…) She made a very soft porridge-like polenta, but I really like the idea of the fried version.

  7. madonnadelpiatto

    the soup looks beautiful in the spendid Deruta dishes! Can you believe I have never tasted it? There’s so much regional food in Italy once can spend a lifetime trying it all. Thank you for sharing this special – and for me unusual – recipe in such a detail

    1. Frank Fariello

      So true. It would take a lifetime, and then some, to learn all there is to learn, and try all there is to try. Thanks for stopping by Letizia!

  8. Chiara

    Apprezzo dell’inverno la possibilità di mangiare calde e corroboranti minestre, grazie per aver condiviso con noi questa prelibatezza Frank, buona settimana..

Leave a Comment