I’ve been making this recipe for a long time. It’s a go-to staple for days, especially chilly ones, when I don’t have a lot of time and do have some hearty cooking greens in the crisper. I never called it Italian Wedding Soup, though. It didn’t really have a name; I’d just call it soup with Italian sausage and greens, or something like that.
I mentioned it once to my friend Mikaela, when she had cooked a large pot of white beans and was running out of ideas for them. Since Mikaela doesn’t count herself much of a cook, I emphasized how easy it was. “Just fry up the sausage, throw the rest in, and simmer it for a while,” I told her. She agreed that it sounded within her capabilities.
Months later, she called me on the phone. “How do you make that Italian Wedding Soup?” she asked me. I had no idea what she was talking about. “I don’t make Italian Wedding Soup,” I replied, thinking of a complex and delicate vegetable soup with meatballs I once had under that name. Mikaela was frustrated with me, and after quite a bit of back and forth I remembered the soup we had once talked about. I’ve called it Italian Wedding Soup ever since. Wikipedia says we were both right, defining Italian Wedding Soup as consisting of “green vegetables (usually endive and escarole or cabbage, lettuce, kale, and/or spinach) and meat (usually meatballs and/or sausage) in a clear chicken-based broth.“
This soup is rich and hearty, full of healthy beans and greens, and easy to throw together. Once you try it, I’m sure it will become a staple in your kitchen as it is in mine. It’s adaptable to the ingredients and mood you find yourself in – for instance, use aged (not Mexican-style) chorizo instead of Italian sausage, chickpeas instead of white beans, and season with paprika (smoked if you’ve got it) for a nice Spanish-style soup. Sometimes I use the tomatoes, more often not; it’s a matter of taste. Add fresh herbs, if you have them on hand, or stir in a spoonful of pesto just before serving. You can also saute a little diced chicken (a quarter pound is about right) with the sausage, or double the sausage, for a meat-lover’s version.
You can use almost any cooking green here. I most often use chard or lacinata kale (also called Tuscan or dinosaur kale). Spinach would work well and will cook almost instantly. Turnip, mustard, or similar pungent greens add a lot of character! You could also use cabbage; if you do, stir it in with the garlic and saute it for a few minutes before adding the broth and other ingredients.
A note on broth: Unlike a lot of cookbooks, I am not going to tell you to use homemade broth. Homemade broth is, for most of us, a pretty rare commodity. Use it where its flavor will really shine. I used to use Swanson’s canned broth, but have pretty much thrown that over for packets of concentrated broth, which take up a lot less space and are pretty flexible. Trader Joe’s has good ones, and Swanson’s makes them too. Each recommends 1 packet to 1 cup of water, but I often reconstitute with 1.5 to 2 cups when I’m making soup (or with 3/4 cup if I’m making gravy). Knorr makes a super-concentrated variety, one packet making almost 4 cups of broth.
Italian Wedding Soup with Sausage
Serves: 4 Time: 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the greens used
1 link (4 oz) Italian or other full-flavored sausage
2 Tb olive oil
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced or run through a press
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste, optional
4 or 5 cups chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes (I recommend Muir Glen), optional
1 can white beans, drained
1 small to medium bunch cooking greens, roughly chopped
Slice the sausage into 1/4-inch rounds. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the sausage and saute until browned and thoroughly cooked. Stir in the garlic and red pepper (if using), saute for a few seconds, and then add the broth, tomatoes (if using), and beans. Simmer for 10 minutes to meld the flavors. Stir in the greens and simmer gently until tender (a minute or two for spinach, 5-10 minutes for chard and lacinata kale, 15 minutes or so for tough greens like curly kale or mustard greens). Taste for seasoning; add black pepper and salt if needed – sausage is usually salty, as are canned ingredients, so you probably won’t need any.
Ladle into bowls and enjoy!
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