Italian wedding soup is one of those wonderful rustic dishes that has a lot of give and room for interpretation to play with flavours. The key ingredients are broth, meatballs, greens and grains and/or pasta. The name comes not from where it is served but from the Italian saying ‘minestra maritata’ meaning ‘married soup,’ suggesting the union of flavours to be as delightful as a happy marriage.
Pork and fennel broth
Makes 3.5 – 4L
Serves approx. 10
- 3kg pork bones, cut into 4/5cm chunks, roasted in a 170°C oven until caramelised, about 45 minutes
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
- 5 fresh bay leaves
- 3 large brown onions, skin on, quartered
- 3 sticks celery, chopped
- 1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, quartered
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 tomato
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- 1 anchillo chilli, optional
Makes 33 meatballs
- 1kg pork collar butt, minced
- 80g breadcrumbs, made from day old ciabatta (or 40g panko)
- 60ml milk
- 2 teaspoons ground bay leaves (sage also works well)
- 120g guanciale, finely chopped and lightly sautéed
- 1 lemon, zested
- Generous grating nutmeg
- 40g grana padano, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon cooking salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Brown sugar pork
- 1.5kg pork collar butt, halved horizontally
- 2 lemons, zested
- 40ml olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel
- 100g butter
- 90g brown sugar
- 40ml white wine
- 40ml balsamic vinegar
- 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 650ml pork and fennel broth
- 6 pork meatballs
- 1 cup cooked grains/pasta (egg pasta, fregola, freeka, pearl cous cous and barley all work well)
- 140g brown sugar pork
- 1 cup greens (rocket, shredded chard or sorrel)
- Freshly grated black pepper and grana padano, optional
1. To make the broth
Put all the ingredients into a large stockpot, over a medium-high heat, cover with cold water (about 10 litres) and bring to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down low until the water is very gently simmering. Simmer for 3-4 hours (for a richer broth you can do this very low and slow over many more hours), skimming as needed, until the liquid is reduced by about a quarter. Strain through muslin and return to the stove to reduce further, until you have about 3.5 to 4 litres – this stage is all about achieving the flavour you want from the broth. Portion and refrigerate or freeze.
2. To make the meatballs
Put the minced pork into a bowl. Place the breadcrumbs in a separate bowl and spoon over the milk, toss gently and leave to sit for 5 minutes. Add the ground bay leaves, guanciale, lemon zest, nutmeg, grana padano and salt, using your hands to mix. Add in the soaked breadcrumbs and mix through until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Roll into 30g balls, cover and refrigerate until required. Cook to order – heat a frying pan over a medium heat, add the olive oil and required number of meatballs, sauté until golden and cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
3. To make the brown sugar pork
If marinating, put the pork into a tray that fits it snugly. Mix the lemon zest, olive oil and ground fennel, then rub it over the pork until each piece of pork is coated – cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours (preferably overnight).
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Heat a small saucepan over medium heat, add the butter, sugar, wine and balsamic vinegar, stirring as the butter melts. Add the garlic and salt, stir for a further minute, making sure the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Place the pork into a baking tray, just large enough to hold both pieces of pork. Pour over the butter sauce, turning the pork in the sauce a couple of times making sure that the pork is fully covered. Cover with baking paper and then tightly seal with foil. Roast for 1 hour. Remove from the oven, uncover and turn the pork, then return to the oven and cook for a further 30 minutes, turning the pork once more and basting several times. Rest for 10 minutes, then shred with a fork. The pork can be prepared a day ahead, shredded, tossed in the sauce, portioned and refrigerated.
4. To bring it all together
To bring the soup together, heat the broth in a small saucepan, add the grains/ pasta and brown sugar pork, simmer for a minute. Divide the greens and hot meatballs into two serving bowls. Ladle over the hot broth, grains/ pasta and pork, the hot broth will wilt the greens. Serve immediately with the option of freshly cracked pepper and grated grana padano.
As seen in autumn 2023