Pecorino Romano adds punch to this meatball soup
I’ve written about the satisfaction of bowl food this time of year, but there’s another style of food that’s just as comforting in winter: meatballs. After all, who doesn’t love a good meatball?
Meatballs come in all sizes – small, large, round, patties – with different types of protein (beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, even fish), while the variations effortlessly move away from “meat”. To other star ingredients, such as certain legumes, beans and grains. In other words, meatballs are versatile and universally enjoyable to eat, accommodating most diets and preferences. They’re also efficient and economical, a great way to stretch inexpensive ingredients, and they can be frozen or refrigerated for later use, which is great for an easy weekday meal.
This soup recipe is a two-iron. It’s a steaming bowl of heartwarming soup filled with turkey meatballs floating in nourishing chicken broth. The recipe is inspired by an Italian wedding soup, a classic Italian-American vegetable and meatball soup (and to be clear, the term “marriage” refers to the marriage of its ingredients, not the celebration of a romantic union). There are many versions of an Italian wedding soup. Meatballs can be made with chicken, turkey, beef, or pork, which mix with diced herbs, such as onion, carrot, and celery. For added substance, the soup sometimes includes pasta. In other words, how you prepare it is open to your interpretation, your tastes, and what your fridge contains.
In this recipe, I omitted the pasta and increased the flavor of the broth and meatballs with copious amounts of cheese. While Parmesan is a staple, I find the salty crispness of Pecorino Romano adds more punch and flavor to the meatballs. A piece of cheese crust is added to the broth (a humble and effective no-waste technique for boosting flavor and body), which accentuates a cheesy and umami richness in an otherwise simple soup.
Feel free to use this recipe as a template and make your own changes based on what you have on hand. For example, if you have frozen turkey broth after the holidays, use it for the soup base. Or replace the ground turkey with ground chicken to make the meatballs. If you want to add pasta, try orzo or small, tubular pastas, like ditalini – and note that you may need to add more broth, as the pasta will soak up some during cooking. If you don’t have homemade broth on hand, a good quality store-bought chicken broth will easily replace a quick weekday dinner.
Cheese Turkey Meatball Soup
4 to 5, makes about 16 meatballs
1 pound of ground turkey (or chicken)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, sliced
1 stalk of celery, diced
5 to 6 cups of chicken broth
parmesan zest in 2 inch pieces
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups coarsely chopped spinach or kale leaves
Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese for sprinkling
Combine the ingredients for the meatballs (excluding the oil) in a bowl and stir to combine. Form 1-inch meatballs, flatten slightly and place on a plate. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a deep pan or pot. Add the meatballs in a single layer without overcrowding, in batches if necessary. Brown both sides, turning when they come off the pan easily, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate covered with a paper towel. (They will finish cooking in the soup.)
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the onion, carrots, celery and a pinch of salt to the pan and sautÃ© until the vegetables are shiny and tender, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring the brown pieces. Add the broth, cheese, bay leaf, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and black pepper. Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Add the meatballs and continue cooking until the meatballs are cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes more. Stir in green vegetables and cook until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Pour into bowls and serve with cheese for a dusting.
Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer.