The first time I tried Italian Wedding Soup I was a teenager living in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. My parents used to take my sister and me on a 3-mile walk around Lake Harriet every Sunday—even in the dead of winter. In Minnesota, that meant we were trudging along in the snow, sometimes in temperatures well below freezing and wind chill factors of minus 30. We wore our ski gear and the only other people around the lake were cross country skiing on the bike path. Generally speaking, I loathed the first twenty minutes of these walks, but after I got going and had a chance to warm up, I could enjoy the glittering icy vistas and bright blue sky. But the best part, without a doubt, was what came after the walk: A trip to a local Italian cafe where they served soups and sandwiches on fresh-baked focaccia. Now, places like this are a dime a dozen, but back then, in the 1990’s, this place was a gem. And that soup? Still on my list of go-to comfort foods.
Italian wedding soup traditionally is made with meatballs (made from beef, pork or veal, breadcrumbs, herbs and whole eggs), chicken broth, some pasta and greens (escarole or spinach) plus Parmesan. My recipe uses ground chicken breast baked meatballs and includes more veggies and herbs to give flavor to the broth. If you are following The Formula, you can have one serving of starch (such as whole wheat pasta) in your serving of the soup at Meal 3. For Meal 4, you can opt for zucchini noodles or just load up on a little more kale or spinach. As always, feel free to play with your herbs and seasoning. I like to add some Parmesan as a treat but if you are following The Formula, it is not included on the diet and will impact your results.
Olive oil cooking spray
Fresh sage, finely chopped
1lb ground chicken breast
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 cups high quality, low-sodium chicken broth
2-3 large carrots, cut in coins
2-3 stalks celery, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups zucchini noodles (optional)
2 cups fresh or frozen kale or spinach
4 sprigs fresh Thyme
2 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
Extra treat: Parmesan sprinkled on top
Heat oven to 400 F. Finely chop 1/4 of the onion and set aside. Roughly chop the rest and transfer to a large pot. Lightly coat the bottom of the pot and onion with olive oil cooking spray and sautee over very low heat, stirring occasionally, 10-15 minutes, until soft and translucent.
Make meatballs: Add finely chopped onion to a mixing bowl. Add sage, ground chicken and garlic and mix with hands. Season with salt. Form meatballs with hands (dip hands in water if they become too sticky) and place balls on a baking sheet lightly coated with olive oil cooking spray. Transfer sheet to oven and bake until cooked through, 12-15 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add broth, carrots, celery and optional kale to pot and increase heat to medium. Cook, simmering soup, for 20 minutes more. If using zucchini noodles, add 10 minutes after adding carrots and celery. If using spinach, add right before serving. Divide meatballs and soup into four portions. Top each serving with a sprig of thyme and finely chopped chives before enjoying.
As a treat you can grate a little Parmesan cheese on top if you are at a stage with The Formula where you feel confident including treat meals.