I've been having some serious meatball cravings lately, but the weather is giving me the nagging sense that beach season is not that far away after all. And unfortunately, the ideal way to eat meatballs is soaked with a luscious, rich tomato sauce and nestled in spaghetti or a soft white roll, covered in cheese.
I tried to capture the most awesome flavorful qualities in the meatballs, but presented on a healthier platform of soup and made 100% with things I had in the freezer/pantry. Italian wedding soup is the clear go-to for this type of dish, but most versions are too brothy, salty, or filled with overcooked gobs of tiny pasta. I hemmed and hawed for awhile about adding another starch here, but by the time the meatballs were in the vegetable base, it was thick enough already (though I still want to try a version with lentils).
The most ironic part of this endeavor is that the recipe closest to what I wanted was Ina Garten's. I had ground turkey on hand so had to tweak the meat and stock ingredients quite a bit to add more flavor, but I really liked the idea of baking the meatballs instead of frying. It takes a lot less effort since you don't need to stand over the stove and also some of the fat bakes out so you're not left with an overly slick soup.
I also added some diced tomatoes in a last ditch effort to channel the meatball subs of my dreams. This makes a great filling lunch and, if anything, is certainly a lot less messy to eat at work than a traditional Italian dinner.
Marginally Healthier Italian Wedding Soup
Adapted from Ina Garten
Total time: 1 hour (Active time 45 minutes)
- 1.25 pounds (550g) lean ground turkey
- 2/3 cup bread crumbs
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated
- 1/2 small onion, finely diced
- handful of parsley leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup (2 oz/50g) freshly grated hard cheese (I used pecorino romano)
- 2 teaspoons dried sage (optional, thyme/basil/oregano would also be good)
- 1 large egg beaten with a splash of milk
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- big pinch of salt, ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 3 stalks of celery, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, grated
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- splash of white wine
- 28 oz (800g) can of diced tomatoes in juice
- 10 oz (280g) brick of frozen spinach, thawed in the microwave
- 4 cups/1L vegetable broth (cubes are fine, but homemade is better)
- 4-6 cups/1-1.5L water
- fresh chopped dill, crushed red pepper, grated hard cheese (for serving)
Preheat oven to 350F/180C and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Add first set of ingredients in a large bowl and mix gently with your hands (or a spoon but this takes longer). Form meat mixture into small balls about 1/2"/1cm in diameter (roundness is not crucial here); you should have about 60-70 total. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.
While meatballs are baking, heat olive oil in a large pot and saute onion, carrot, and celery until softened (about 5-7 minutes). Add garlic, herbs, and a splash of white wine and cook for an additional minute or two while you get the liquid ingredients ready. Add tomatoes and their juice, spinach, vegetable broth, and 4 cups/1L water and heat to a simmer.
Add meatballs when they are finished baking and heat through. If too thick for your liking, add an additional 2 cups of water. Taste and re-season if necessary with salt and pepper. Serve with chopped dill, red pepper, and cheese, if using.