I’ve written about how satisfying pot food is this time of year, but there’s another style of food that also brings comfort in winter: meatballs. After all, who doesn’t love good meatballs?
Meatballs are available in all sizes—small, large, round and pie—with different types of protein (beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, and even fish), while variations easily veer from “meat” to other star ingredients, such as some legumes, beans, and grains. In other words, meatballs are versatile, universally enjoyable to eat, and appealing to most diets and preferences. It’s also efficiently economical, a great way to stretch out inexpensive ingredients, and can be frozen or refrigerated for later use, perfect for an easy weekend meal.
This soup recipe is for two dishes. It’s a steaming bowl of comforting stew filled with turkey meatballs floating in nutritious chicken broth. The recipe is inspired by the Italian wedding soup, the classic Italian vegetable and meatball soup (and to be clear, “wedding” refers to the pairing of its ingredients, not the celebration of a romantic relationship). There are many iterations of Italian wedding soup. Meatballs can be made from chicken, turkey, beef, or pork, mixed with aromatic cubes like onions, carrots, and celery. For an extra texture, soup sometimes includes pasta. In other words, how to make it open to your interpretation, your tastes, and the contents of your refrigerator.
In this recipe, I omit the pasta and flavor the broth and meatballs with copious amounts of cheese. While Parmesan is my go-to for popularity, I find that the salty sharpness of Pecorino Romano adds even more oomph and flavor to the meatballs. A large chunk of the cheese peel is added to the broth (a humble, efficient, no-waste technique for building flavor and texture), bringing out the richness of umami cheese in a simple soup.
Feel free to use this recipe as a template and make your own adjustments depending on what you have on hand. For example, if you have some frozen turkey stock after the holiday, use it as a soup base. Or replace the ground turkey with ground chicken to make meatballs. If you want to add some pasta, try orzo or small tube pasta, such as detalini – and note that you may need to add more broth, as the pasta will absorb some as it cooks. If you don’t have homemade stock on hand, good quality store-bought chicken stock for a quick weeknight dinner will be easy.
Meatballs soup with cheese
4 to 5, make about 16 meatballs
1 pound ground turkey (or chicken)
1/3 cup rusk rusk
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper flakes (optional)
1 medium onion chopped
1 large carrot cut into slices
1 celery stalk, cut into cubes
5 to 6 cups chicken broth
2 inch peel parmesan cheese
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups coarsely chopped spinach or kale leaves
Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese for sprinkling
Combine meatball ingredients (excluding oil) in a bowl and mix until combined. Shape into 1-inch meatballs, flatten them slightly and place on a plate. Chill for 30 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a deep frying pan or soup pot. Add meatballs in a single layer without overcrowding, in batches if necessary. Brown on both sides, flipping when easily released from skillet, about 6 minutes. Transfer it to a plate lined with a paper towel. (They will finish cooking in the soup.)
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add onion, carrots, celery, and a pinch of salt to skillet and sauté until vegetables are shiny and tender, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring any brown pieces. Add the broth, cheese, bay leaf, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt and black pepper. Cover the pot partially and leave it on a medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the meatballs and continue to cook until the meatballs are fully cooked through, an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in vegetables and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste with spices and add more salt and pepper to taste. Pour into bowls and serve with cheese to sprinkle.
Linda Balslev is a Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.