As I said earlier in the week, holidays in our family meant soup. The first course on New Year’s Day was my mother’s French onion soup, the culmination of a days bef0re cooking process that had the house stinking to high hell from onions. Thanksgiving brought turkey or chicken noodle soup from my aunt, made with the little bowtie pasta that for some reason doesn’t taste as good when I make it. And Christmas day brought my grandmother’s Poop Soup.
Poop Soup is what is commonly called Italian Wedding Soup. I’m a third-generation Italian-American. In my lifetime, I’ve been to no less than 20 Italian weddings and can state with certainty that never once have I had Italian Wedding Soup at one. I digress. I coined this sophomoric description for my grandmother’s soup as a child for the digestive reaction it caused. Hours later, when the midday naps began, the TV room at my aunt’s house would be a symphony of snoring and gas. The combination of air ripping against skin was indistinguishable most times and quite disgusting on the whole. But, the soup was damn good, if for no other reason than you could taste the hours that went into making it. Boiling a chicken. Frying the meatballs. Chopping vegetables. Shredding the chicken. Simmering everything. It’s quite a feat.
I’ve cobbled together a recipe based on best guesses from relatives and my own attempts at the project. I stress the salt and pepper to taste in all cases here. My family likes its sodium. I recommend serving with grated parmigiano-reggiano and a side of crusty Italian bread.
Grandma Mancini’s Poop Soup
- 1 4-5# fresh roasting chicken, bones and all
- 3-4 celery stalks, trimmed and curly leaves reserved
- 3-4 carrots, halved
- 1 medium onion, quartered
- 8 garlic cloves
- good-sized handful of fresh parsley (don’t skimp on dried for this)
- 4-5 sprigs of thyme, stripped from the stick (don’t skimp on dried)
- 3 bay leaves
- salt and pepper
Remove the chicken from the package and pat dry with paper towels. Use a fork to pierce the skin of the chicken’s breast, thighs and upper legs multiple times. Set the body of the chicken a stock pot large enough so it doesn’t touch the walls. Add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic cloves and fill the pot with water until it cover the chicken by about 1/2 to a full inch. Set on medium heat. When it comes to a boil, add the herbs, a liberal handful of salt and a few cranks of your pepper grinder. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially and allow to simmer for three hours. Check the pan regularly and stir with a heavy duty wooden spoon. Using tongs and/or forks, remove the chicken from the pot and set on a large enough platter to collect any juices that will run off. Allow this to cool. Set a strainer over a large bowl and run the broth through, catching the vegetables, herbs, chicken parts and other large items that may be floating in the stock. Use a large serving fork or serving spoon to lightly press on the contents within the strainer to release any reserved liquid. You may need to empty your strainer periodically to allow for more stock to get through.
Allow the stock to cool in the bowl and return to your chicken. Pick the skin and exposed fat off the exterior, then begin to pull hunks of meat off the carcass. Pick carcass clean of meat, separating the meat from the breast, legs and thigh. You can toss the carcass and waste. Return to your meat and shred it using a pair of forks on a cutting board. Then, move on to your meatballs…
- 1 egg
- 3/4# ground beef (no more than 90 percent lean)
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tb parmigiano reggiano
- 2 tb bread crumbs, unseasoned
- 2 tb olive oil
Beat egg slightly in medium bowl; add ground beef, parsley, garlic, grated cheese and bread crumbs. Mix well with clean hands. Form into small meatballs, using about 1 tsp ground beef mixture for each. In a large stock pot, add olive oil and heat pan to medium-high. When oil shimmers, add meatballs. Brown on all sides, cooking about five minutes. Remove meatballs to paper towel covered plate. Reserve about 1-2 tb of the pan drippings and dump the rest. Now, we can move on to the soup…
- 3 carrots, cleaned and chopped
- 3 celery stalks, trimmed, cleaned and chopped
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cups escarole, washed thoroughly
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- salt and pepper
Put the pan, with the remaining drippings, on medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the onions and cook until transluscent. Add garlic cloves and cook until fragrant. Add carrots and celery and cook together, stirring, for 4-5 minutes. When everything has been softened, add the chicken broth to the pan slowly. Return the pot to a boil, then add the chicken and meatballs. Reduce heat to the low side of medium-low Allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes. You really want the flavors to intermingle. Just before serving, return the burner to medium and add the escarole, in bunches, and simmer until it can be easy split with a wooden spoon against the side of a pan.
If you’d like, ladle off some broth from the soup into a small sauce pan, boil and cook a batch of acine di pepe or orzo to add to the soup. It will add a little bulk to the meal. You may not want to add the pasta directly to the soup in order to avoid an overly starchy flavor.
This recipe should make enough soup for a weekend dinner and plenty of leftovers to freeze.
A condensed ingredient list for shopping:
- 1 4-5# fresh roasting chicken
- 3/4# of ground beef (< or equal to 90% lean)
- 1 head of celery
- 1 large head of escarole
- 1 bunch of carrots
- 1 garlic bulb
- 2 medium onions
- 1 bunch of fresh parsley
- 1 bunch of fresh thyme
- 1 egg
- at least 2 tb of parmigiano reggiano cheese
- bread crums
- olive oil
- bay leaves
- salt and pepper