Monday, December 21, 2009

Escarole Soup, or Italian Wedding Soup


Mrs D is of Irish decent, a Canadian from Newfoundland, and she's had the reputation of making the best Italian home cooked meals in Philadelphia. That's a lot to say considering that there is such a large Italian population in the Philadelphia area. Many will disagree and nominate someone else to take over Mrs D's spot. I understand. A home cooked meal shared in the company of family and friends, made by a person one holds dear, can transport us to places of happiness and comfort and contentment. I suppose those are situations when we regress a bit, and become childishly carefree. We share our joy with those around us and we feel ever so cozy in the company of our host. Those are times well spent. So I am grateful to Mrs D and her family for "adopting" me, and giving me wonderful memories of occasions spent at their dining room table and at their hearth side. Mrs D, whose first name is Carmel, met Richard D, her Italian-American husband-to-be when he was stationed at an American air force base in Stephenville, Newfoundland, during the Korean war. Their love blossomed, they were soon married, and Carmel found herself ensconced in her new home in Philadelphia. It was West Philadelphia to be exact, the Overbrook section, St Donato's parish. Overbrook in West Philadelphia, was one of the neighborhoods where a large population of Italian Americans called home. Some of them still live there, most (like Mrs D and her family), have moved away. Carmel became close with her in-laws, especially with Anne, her new aunt. Aunt Anne taught Carmel all about Italian cooking, and soon Carmel was on her way to becoming a superb Italian home cook.
Carmel and Richard D... wonderful people!
So... my best friend is Donna D, Carmel's daughter. It is through Donna that I was first invited to Mrs D's, where eventually I spent many a Sunday and a holiday, sitting around the dinning room table talking, playing cards and "eating Italian." Thanksgiving and Christmas meals would always begin with escarole soup, otherwise known as Italian wedding soup. To honor Mrs D and Donna, I have taken escarole soup, tweaked it slightly (I like tweaking with recipes), and incorporated it into my own holiday traditions. Now when my Greek-Spanish-Italian family gets together for the holidays, we start our meals with escarole soup. When I go to see Donna for Christmas I always take a pot of the soup with me. We enjoy those succulent little meatballs swirling in aromatic chicken broth, and we reminisce about the old times. Her mother, our dear Carmel, is still with us at age 82, however she has succumbed to Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, her memory loss has become significant. She now resides in a nursing home and Donna oversees her care. Mrs D, Carmel, Carm, we remember you, we miss you, we love you!



ESCAROLE SOUP

Step 1: Make the chicken broth.
You can use store bought chicken broth, but we all know that to have a good soup base we must make our own broth, with chicken and soup vegetables. Store bought broth is all right to use if you need to make the soup in a jiffy, but for a special occasion start from scratch. To lessen the labor involved, the broth can be made a day before, or you can use broth you've made previously and then frozen. Here's how:


  1. Clean and wash one 5 lb chicken. Place it in a large soup pot. Add:
  2. three carrots roughly chopped
  3. three stalks of celery with leaves, roughly chopped
  4. one onion peeled and cut in quarters
  5. one parsnip roughly chopped
  6. one turnip cut in quarters
  7. one leek roughly chopped
  8. Add some dill and parsley, stems and all. Now spice it up:
  9. Add ten peppercorns, three cloves of garlic cut up, and salt.
  10. Pour water over the ingredients, filling the pot to about one inch from the rim. Place it on the stove top and bring to a boil, turn heat to low and cover. Allow soup to cook slowly, until the meat of the chicken can be easily pulled off the bone. Turn off the heat, and cool.
  11. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the chicken from the pot. Strain the broth and reserve it. Press down on the vegetables with a masher to remove their excess liquid and combine it with the reserved broth. Discard the vegetables.
  12. Remove the meat from the chicken bones and reserve some breast meat to be used when assembling the soup.
  13. You can save the rest of the cooked chicken for another use. You now have the broth that will be used as a base for your soup. Refrigerate it until ready to use.
  14. Tip: the fat in the broth rises to the top. While the broth is in the refrigerator, the fat will solidify. You can skim it off, and you will have a fat free broth.
Step 2: Prepare the escarole.

  1. Cook the escarole separately rather than in the broth. To save time you can make it a day ahead and store it in the refrigerator.
  2. Clean one large or two small heads of escarole very carefully. You'll have to wash them several times to make sure no soil or sand remains stuck to the leaves.
  3. Cut the escarole into pieces one to two inches in length
  4. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add the escarole. Cook for about five minutes, until the escarole is wilted and has given off its liquid. Turn off the heat and drain the escarole. Immerse it in an ice water bath to blanch it. After about five minutes drain it and reserve it until ready to use.
Step 3: Make the meatballs.

  1. 1 lb lean ground beef
  2. 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  3. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 3 tablespoons parsley, minced
  5. 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  6. 1 egg beaten
  7. 2 tablespoons milk
  8. salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients and shape into small meatballs, about one inch in diameter. Saute the meatballs in some vegetable oil until they are browned. Remove them onto paper towels. The meatballs will finish cooking in the broth.

Step 4: Assemble the soup
  1. Bring the broth to a boil (you should have about ten cups).
  2. Add two diced carrots and four chopped green onions.
  3. Drop the meatballs into the boiling liquid, lower the heat and finish cooking them.
  4. Cut up the reserved chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and add it to the broth.
  5. Add the escarole.
  6. Add two tablespoons of chopped dill and one tablespoon chopped parsley.
  7. Ready to serve! Plate it and pass around grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top.



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