Mini Meatball Soup

I'm back in Rome after two weeks in the U.S -- jetlagged and unsure of what day it is, of course -- but pleased to be back in the land of coffee that costs one euro, where winter temperatures are reasonable and pasta is plentiful. I'm rested and excited for another year of blogging, so, with no further delay: the first recipe of 2020!

I think we can all agree that soup is a good starting point for January, yes? Between Thanksgiving (Americans) and Christmas and New Years AND La Befana (Italians) I'd guess that at this point in the year we're all feeling like we may have overdone it, and we wouldn't necessarily be wrong. If you too have gone a little too heavy on the gingerbread, pushed your limits ever so slightly at every holiday cheese board, accepted every Christmas cookie that was offered to you, and are fully acquainted with the Cadbury Advent calendar (just me?) but have only a fuzzy memory of what a vegetable is --  this soup is for you.

Now! I'm not talking salad or egg whites here to detox from the holidays -- not my style -- but rather something that is wholesome and filling and still comforting, devoid of the months' butter and cream and cheese and sugar to boot. This Mini Meatball Soup -- resembling zuppa di polpettine in Trento-Alto Adige, or Zuppa di Sante' in Calabria -- offers good things like spinach and carrots and celery and broth, accompanied by delicate ditalini and the most delightfully miniature and supremely flavorful of all the meatballs that ever were (don't leave out the nutmeg -- it matters here). It's cozy and comforting and, like all soups, only improved by a little grated Parmesan over the top. And wait, there's more! If you're me, this soup is also chock full of nostalgia; it's a dish that my mom made for us often growing up, a recipe from the Food Network's Rachael Ray, whose cooking show 30 Minute Meals came on TV just about the time I got home from school. A pot of this bubbling away on the stove made any homework blues or long days disappear, and I'm so happy to have brought it with me to my kitchen in Rome. Add this to your own dinner repertoire this now and thank me later, deal? It's wonderful. 

(For the record: Rachael's meals consistently took more than 30 minutes to make, but it occurs to me now that this is possibly because they were some of the first I cut my future food blogger teeth on, see here. 2020 revelations!). 

A couple of notes: The recipe as written says that you can cook the meatballs directly in the soup, but if you prefer you can also bake them in the oven and then add them to the soup in the end. Feel free to substitute broken spaghetti or orzo or another small pasta for the ditalini. I found that towards the end of the cooking time, I needed to add another cup of broth as it had cooked down considerably while boiling, so feel free to add more liquid if you find your soup needs to be soupier. If you have one on hand, a cheese rind added to this soup would only make it more delicious. If you foresee eating this soup over a day or two, you can prevent the pasta from getting soggy by cooking it separately and then adding it to the soup when you're ready to eat -- this is what my mom does, and it keeps your pasta al dente. 

Looking for other soup recipes? I've got this Chickpea, Kale, and Sausage Soup, this Butternut Squash Soup with Sage CroutonsTomato, Lentil, and Swiss Chard Soup, this Pasta e Ceci, and this Turkey, Spinach, and White bean Soup

Recipe slightly adapted from Rachael Ray; serves 4 very generously and 6 less so. 

Olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound (450 grams) ground beef
1 egg, beaten
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup (50 grams) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup (60 grams) plain bread crumbs, a couple of handfuls
A few generous gratings of fresh nutmeg
6 cups (1440mL) chicken stock or broth
2 cups (480 mL) water
1 1/2 cups (140 grams) dried ditalini
10 ounces (300 grams) fresh spinach, coarsely chopped

Bread and extra Parm, for serving

In a deep pot over medium heat add oil, chopped carrots, celery and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook veggies 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the veggies cook, combine the beef, egg, garlic, grated cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg in a large bowl. Uncover your soup pot and add broth and water to the pot. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. 
When soup boils, reduce heat a bit and start to roll meat mixture into small balls, dropping them straight into the pot. When you are done rolling the meat, add pasta to the soup and stir. Let the soup cook for another 10 minutes or so, or until the pasta is tender. Next, stir in the spinach in batches; when the spinach has wilted into the soup, the soup is done and ready to serve. Adjust your seasonings and serve with some extra Parmesan over the top, if you'd like, with some bread along the side. Eat very happily.  

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