I confess, I have never been to an Italian wedding. But if this is the kind of fare I could expect to encounter at one, then I might start crashing weddings! When I saw this soup on Annie’s Eats, my jaw literally dropped open. I knew I was destined to make this soup; that it would be tasty beyond measure; and that I would never look at soup the same way again. Annie writes that it “is one of the best soups [she has] ever eaten,” and I will take the effusiveness one step further by saying that this is the best soup I have ever eaten. I even bought a basil plant, which, miracle of miracles, is still thriving months later, just to facilitate making this soup. Truth be told, I have actually become rather attached to Basil, as I have named her. Not the most imaginative name in the world, I know; but for us, Basil is a nice change from names like Agamemnon, Georg, and Lobster. 😉
This soup is packed with flavour and good ingredients, which you can truthfully say about far too few things in this life. 🙂 You start the soup by making a quick sort of vegetable stock with carrots, an onion, basil, and garlic, and this DIY veggie stock – which takes only minutes to make – forms a robust, flavourful backbone for this soup. I have never had a soup or stew so rich and hearty as this one, and it is entirely vegetarian – not a whiff of meat anywhere. I think the addition of two Parmesan rinds helps with the flavour. By the way, I have tried the soup with two Asiago rinds and even with just one Parmesan rind at one point, and it is delicious either way.
This soup is rich enough to be enjoyed on a cold evening, but it is, paradoxically, light enough to make for wonderful summer fare, too. It takes a magical soup indeed to satisfy both summer and winter palates. I cannot adequately express my love and marvel for this soup; you really must try it. As if the soup itself isn’t delicious and satisfying enough on its own, the eggplant and Parmesan balls – which, as with the soup, I have made with Asiago cheese to great fanfare – are amazing enough to eat by themselves. They elevate the soup to Nirvana. I have never been a fan of eggplant, but I have actually made the eggplant balls without the soup for a snacky sort of meal. Really, of all the recipes on my blog thus far, this is one of the top five I urge you to try! (Along with Irish soda bread – so yummy and so versatile!)
I know there is a bit of prep involved, but I got it down to two hours from start to finish. The recipe yields about 12 servings, which is a lot of leftovers for just two or three people. 🙂
Italian Wedding Soup with Eggplant & Parmesan Balls
For the soup:
1 sweet or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 – 3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 cloves peeled garlic (or four forkfuls of pre-crushed garlic)
2 oz. fresh basil leaves
3 TBS olive oil
3 1/2 quarts cold water
1 bunch Swiss or red chard, chopped (discard stems)
1 bunch kale, chopped (discard stems)
1 zucchini, diced
2 Parmesan rinds*
2 TBS Kosher salt, plus more to taste
12 – 20 oz. stuffed tortellini, either fresh or frozen (no need to thaw)
For the balls:
2 large eggplants, peeled and chopped into 1″ cubes
2 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs, plus about 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups more for coating the balls
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 TBS minced parsley (either fresh or frozen and thawed)
2 cloves peeled garlic, minced (or two forkfuls of pre-crushed garlic)
Coarse salt and black pepper, to taste
2 large eggs, cold
1/4 cup to 1/3 cup olive oil, for cooking
For the soup:
You can do this part by hand, but I can say from the stance of one who’s done it by hand that having a food processor makes this step a million times easier (approximately). Process the onion, carrot(s), garlic, and basil until finely chopped and almost the consistency of paste. (According to Annie, this is called a pestata.) Heat the olive oil on high heat in an 8 quart or larger pot. (You can use a 5 quart pot, but it’ll be very tricky fitting everything in there!) Add the pestata to the pot and cook until most of the liquid is released, about 5 – 7 minutes. The pestata should be just starting to dry out.
Add the water to the pot, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pot as you do so. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Add the chard, kale, zucchini, Parmesan rinds, and salt. Cook, covered, for 25 minutes. Uncover soup and cook for 20 minutes more. Cooking the soup uncovered releases more of the liquid and slightly thickens the soup. During the last 15 minutes or so, add the tortellini and allow to cook until tender or al dente, your choice. You may need to adjust the time at which you add the tortellini based on the instructions on the package.
For the balls:
After you have added the chard and so forth to the soup, make the eggplant balls. Bring 3 1/2 cups of salted water to a boil in a 5 quart pot. Add the eggplant and cook for 10 minutes, or until it has softened. (As this was my first time cooking with eggplant, I didn’t realise that eggplant floats!) Drain the pot into a collander, and squish the cooked eggplant against the collander to remove as much excess liquid as possible. If necessary, transfer the eggplant to a cutting board and chop finely; if the eggplant is already in a mostly mushy state, this step is not necessary and you may transfer the eggplant to a large mixing bowl, at least 5 quarts.
In a small bowl, pour about 1 1/2 cups of Panko bread crumbs. This will be used for dipping the balls.
To the 5 quart bowl, add the 2 1/2 cups bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, and about 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and taste; add salt and pepper as needed, keeping in mind that you will be adding two eggs to this mixture, which will dilute the saltiness. Add more bread crumbs as needed, if the texture is not thick enough to hold its shape when formed into a ball. Once you are satisfied with the flavour and texture, form the mixture into balls and dip, one at a time, into the bowl of bread crumbs to coat. Coat each ball thoroughly and place on a plate until you are ready to cook them.
Try to cook the eggplant and Parmesan balls as close to the finishing of the soup as possible. It takes about 20 minutes to cook all of the balls, so you might want to start the cooking process after you have added the tortellini to the soup.
To cook the balls, line a plate with a triple layer of paper towels. This will hold the cooked balls. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a 10″ or 12″ saucepan until very hot. If you take a teaspoonful of the hot oil and add a drop of cold water to it, the cold water should splatter.
Public Safety Notice: Be careful with the hot oil! Do NOT add cold water directly to the pan of hot oil, for it will splatter horribly! If you do the teaspoon test, hold the teaspoon down toward the bottom of your sink and hold your face away. I sustained second degree burns from carelessly handling hot oil. Believe me, I will NOT make that mistake again! Be smart about hot oil, and you should be fine.
Once the oil is hot, add the eggplant balls in an even layer. Turn the balls gently as they cook to ensure all sides are evenly browned. The balls are ready when they are golden brown and crispy. Carefully transfer to the paper towel-lined plate and allow to cool completely before eating. These will be hot! Continue cooking the balls in an even layer, adding olive oil to the pan as needed and allowing the new oil to get very hot before adding new balls.
To serve, sprinkle each bowl of soup with grated Parmesan. Add two to three eggplant balls to each bowl. Enjoy! 🙂
*Simply cut the rind end off a triangle of solid, un-grated Parmesan cheese. I know that sounds obvious, but I was truly mystified as to where one obtained a Parmesan rind. Then the light bulb went off (along with a Google search). I’m not proud of it, but I am glad I researched this before I started whacking all the ends off my cheeses without being sure of what I was doing.
Source: Slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats