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Italian wedding soup’s popularity in my hometown of Pittsburgh is incredible, and I have been a happy witness to its glory for decades.
Pittsburgh has a strong Italian American dynamic – and as a member of that cultural demographic, I personally understand that we not only know how to make a good bowl of Italian wedding soup, we love to eat it whenever we can!
We’ve daintily slurped its broth as a classic starter selection at countless weddings, fought with family members at Christmas and Easter feasts over who gets to munch on the last few mini meatballs, and have ordered it countless of times at many chianti-filled Italian restaurants.
Peek in the freezers of some households, and you may just see a pint container or two of prepped soup, ready to be defrosted for a delicious dinner.
Just start to whisper you’re craving a hot bowl while you’re in front of a group of gabbing ladies gathered outside a noon church service, and there will surely be a heated argument as to what local bar, restaurant, or catering venue makes the best batch.
Its caliber as a Pittsburgh classic is so high that a recipe for “Pittsburgh Wedding Soup” is featured in “Big Flavors from Italian America,” a cookbook published by Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen.
The cookbook is available on Amazon, if you’re interested!
Needless to say, the soup is a mainstay in this city, with slight variations depending on who is preparing it for you.
While it is certainly a popular choice to serve at weddings and other large gatherings, the name of it was never intended to be connected to the actual event of a matrimonial ceremony!
Its original name in Italian, minestra maritata, translates to “married soup” or “wedded soup” connoting that the main ingredients go so well together in the same dish – a happy union of tasty flavors!
Rivaling minestrone and pasta e fagioli, Italian wedding soup has a leg up on these meat-free recipes. Swimming with tender tiny meatballs and shredded chicken, my version of the recipe makes for a delightfully comforting dinner, or a hearty first course.
You’ll see that some recipes online recommend that you saute the meatballs in the same pot you use to prepare the broth in order to develop a stronger base of meaty flavor. But I’d rather not have you worry about browning 60 or so little guys in multiple batches.
I’m kicking it Cervone-old-school-style with the easy and efficient way my mom taught me to brown meatballs – cooked all on one baking sheet!
Note: as tradition would have it, my mom would let the dogs lick the sheet pan after she transferred the meatballs to a platter, but feel free to skip that part.
The soup will still have enough character with the veggie aromatics browning in the pot before adding the stock, and then letting the meatballs and chicken bathe and infuse their flavors in the gently simmering liquid before adding the final touches of pasta and fresh spinach.
And, no, it’s not quite ready to eat once it’s ladled into a bowl. Something is still missing…
As any Pittsburgher will tell you, a bowl of Italian wedding soup is not complete without a big handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and freshly cracked black pepper on top!Print
This recipe for homemade Italian wedding soup is a savory delight swimming with tender meatballs, shredded chicken, tiny pasta, and spinach.
For the Meatballs:
- 1/2 pound 80% lean ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
- 1/8 cup whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning blend
For the Soup:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
- 2 ribs celery, diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 10 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (optional)
- 1/2 cup small dry pasta like mini ditalini, orzo, or acini de pepe
- 1 5-ounce bag baby spinach
- Salt, to taste
- Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper, for serving
For the Meatballs:
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- In a large bowl, gently fold all of the ingredients together with your hands until just incorporated. Do not overmix.
- Roll the mixture into individual teaspoon-sized balls, placing them on the prepared baking sheet about 1/2 inch apart from one another. The mixture will yield about 60-65 meatballs.
- Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for about 10-12 minutes, until the meatballs are just starting to brown but are still slightly underdone in the center. Remove from the oven and set aside on the pan as you prepare the soup.
For the Soup:
- In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil on high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for an additional minute.
- Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs and shredded chicken, if using, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the soup simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Mix the dry pasta into the simmering soup, and cook until al dente according to the package instructions (usually 6-10 minutes), stirring occasionally.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add the spinach, stirring it into the soup for about a minute until wilted.
- Season the soup to taste with salt, and serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and freshly cracked black pepper.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Category: Soup
- Method: Stovetop/Baking
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: Italian, wedding, soup, meatball, chicken
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep
Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a half-size baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Set out the ground beef and ground pork.
Grate and measure your Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for the meatballs, while keeping in mind that you will also need some more grated cheese for topping each bowl before serving.
Measure out the dried breadcrumbs, whole milk, garlic powder, dried Italian seasoning, olive oil, chicken stock, small dry pasta, and baby spinach.
Measure out the salt and black pepper for the meatballs, and keep these out for your final adjustments with the seasoning and serving.
Crack the egg into a small bowl.
Shred the cooked chicken breasts, if using. It’s easy to make shredded chicken in the pressure cooker, but you can also use any leftover cooked chicken from a previous meal. Leftover store-bought rotisserie chicken would also be perfect.
You can use any part of the chicken, white or dark meat, depending on your preference.
The chicken stock can be homemade (our slow cooker recipe is so easy!) or store-bought.
Step 2 – Form the Meatballs
Combine all of the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl. Using your hands, fold the ingredients together until completely incorporated.
You don’t want to overmix this, or the meatballs may become tough and rubbery. Use a gentle touch!
Once the ingredients are combined, use a teaspoon as your measuring guide to roll small, individual balls by hand. Place each one on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch of space between them.
The mixture yields between 60 and 65 meatballs. To ensure you have enough space on your baking sheet, it’s best to organize them in 10 rows, with about 7 meatballs in each row.
Step 3 – Bake the Meatballs
Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven, and bake the meatballs until they start to brown on the tops and bottoms but are still slightly underdone in the center. You can cut one meatball open with a knife to check.
This will only take about 10 to 12 minutes. You don’t want to completely cook them in the oven, as they will continue cooking in the stock.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set it aside as you cook the rest of the ingredients, leaving the meatballs on the baking sheet.
Step 4 – Saute the Vegetables
Heat the olive oil over high heat in a large stockpot. Place the diced onion, carrot, and celery in the stockpot and saute until lightly browned, for about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.
You don’t want to add the minced garlic until after you’ve lightly browned the other vegetables – otherwise, it may burn!
After those first 5 minutes of cooking, you can then add the garlic. Saute for just one more minute, until the garlic is aromatic but not browned or burnt.
Step 5 – Boil the Stock
Immediately pour the stock into the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. This will take about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the strength of your stovetop.
Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot with a heatproof spoon or spatula. There may be some bits of browned veggies stuck on – and you don’t want to miss those little flavor bombs that could potentially burn at the bottom!
Step 6 – Cook the Meatballs and Chicken
Once the stock is boiling, add the shredded chicken and meatballs to the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Continue simmering the soup for 15 to 20 minutes – this time is essential to continue cooking and softening the vegetables, and to extract flavor from the vegetables, meatballs, and chicken into the stock.
Step 7 – Cook the Pasta
Pour the dry pasta into the soup. Cook according to the package instructions until the pasta is al dente. Depending on what style and brand you use, this could take anywhere from 6 to 10 minutes.
Stir occasionally to promote even cooking for the pasta in the stock.
Step 8 – Wilt the Spinach
Once the pasta is al dente, immediately remove the pot from the heat.
Add the spinach to the pot and stir until it’s wilted. Because the spinach is so delicate, and the soup is hot, the leaves will wilt quickly in just under a minute.
If you want to use tougher green leaves, like kale or escarole, you will definitely need more time to cook them. Add them to the stock before adding the pasta to give the leaves enough time to soften.
Step 9 – Garnish and Serve
Ladle the soup into individual bowls, making sure each bowl gets some shredded chicken, a few meatballs, and pasta.
Directly before serving, top each bowl with your desired amount of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and a pinch or two of freshly cracked peppercorns.
Serve and enjoy!
Save and Savor for Later
A prepped container or two of soup has saved me on so many busy occasions – and this particular recipe can definitely be part of your meal prep!
But there is a key difference when cooking it that you need to know if you are making the soup for storage, whether for a few days in the fridge or a few months in the freezer.
If you plan to consume it immediately, we recommend sticking to the recipe, and cooking the pasta directly in the soup. But if you are planning on making the soup ahead of time, do not cook the pasta in the soup!
As the pasta sits in the soup, it will continue to absorb more and more liquid. This will reduce the amount of delicious broth to enjoy, and the pasta will become excessively soft.
Here is what to do if you’re prepping ahead of time:
Make the soup according to the recipe, but skip the step to cook the pasta. When cooled to room temperature, store the soup in airtight containers up to 1 week in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer.
When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup in a pot on the stove or in the microwave and cook the pasta in a separate pot with boiling water. Drain and add it to the warm soup.
No soggy pasta!
Any Pittsburgh readers out there? Do you have your own interpretation of Italian wedding soup? Whether you’re a local pal, or live miles and miles away, I’d love to hear from you! Send me a message and let’s chat!
Ground beef is a protein-packed ingredient with tons of potential for a range of savory dinner ideas. After making this recipe, try a few more from our dinner collection:
Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on February 9, 2015. Last updated on July 18, 2022.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.