It is midafternoon on a blustery winter day; the sun is hiding behind a cloud. The nonnas sit around a kitchen table, each crocheting a lacy gift for a June bride. Their fingers move nimbly to cast onto their crochet hooks the finest cotton thread — thin enough to sew seams on a silk wedding dress. There is no question of color here. Each uses white or eggshell. Their job is creating individual spiderweb-like flowers to join together into a bedspread, a tablecloth, doilies — and maybe runners for the bureaus, too.
A huge pot of chicken soup simmering on the stove adds mist to the windows and an appetite- teasing aroma to the kitchen. The women are working quietly when the door bursts open. The upstairs neighbor stops in for a visit.
She takes off her coat and settles herself at the table. “What is that smell from the chicken soup?” she asks. “It’s not bad,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “But it is different.”
She has hit a nerve. The others begin to talk , sharing their opinion on the scent of the soup. “I didn’t want to say anything,” one says. “It does smell delicious, but different. Maybe American? What did you put in it?”
“I went to buy carrots and celery and the carrots were tied in a bunch with a parsnip and a turnip. I asked Mike, the vegetable man, what the other vegetables were doing with the carrots. He said, ‘Americans call this a bunch of soup greens.’ They put it in soup.”
Stirring the soup, she says, “So I try it. I’m making weddding soup and I want a nice rich broth.”
“Ah, wedding soup, minestra maritati,” one nonna says, giggling. “And we’re making wedding gifts.”
“Bah, listen to her,” the visitor says. “She thinks everything’s funny.”
“Well,” the giggling nonna says, “they call them soup greens, but there are no greens in them, just carrots and turnips. In wedding soup, you have to ‘marry’ the meat with real greens — escarole, spinach or something like that.”
“I know,” says the hostess nonna. “I bought a big bunch of escarole.”
The prickly visitor has run out of steam. Instead of making another stinging remark to the nonnas she’s been zinging for too many years to count, she sighs. “I remember the soup mamma used to make — not filled with just greens and meatballs but with provolone, Parmigiano, bits of prosciutto, and sopressata.”
And they’re off. Each nonna adds another ingredient to the soup her mother used to make. A tureen as big as Naples could not hold all the meats, cheeses, greens, and broth they come up with. They end the list sounding as satisfied as if they had downed the entire dish.
“Tomorrow, you all get a taste,” the hostess nonna says. “A wedding soup with an American touch.”
“Save some for me,” the visitor says, “even though it smells different.”
- 2 three-to-four -pound chickens, quartered, well washed, excess fat removed
- 1 onion, roughly sliced
- 2 large carrots, peeled, roughly sliced
- 2 stalks celery, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 small parsnip, peeled, finely diced
- 1 very small white turnip, peeled, finely diced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 head escarole, well washed, finely sliced
- Place all ingredients except salt, pepper, and escarole in a 6-quart pot.
- Set aside escarole, well wrapped, in refrigerator.
- Cover chicken and vegetables with cold water.
- Bring to a boil, uncovered, on high heat.
- When ingredients come to a boil, skim foam that rises to the top; reduce heat.
- Add a generous amount of salt and pepper; partially cover pot.
- Stir occasionally; simmer about 75 minutes.
- Remove chicken pieces from broth—make sure they are cooked through.
- Skin and bone chicken; place meat on platter, cover, and refrigerate.
- Return bones and skin to simmering soup; simmer, uncovered, 2 hours.
- Strain broth; discard skin and bones.
- Refrigerate broth up to 24 hours or until fat rises and hardens.
- Remove congealed fat; reheat soup for serving or refrigerate.
- Use within two days or freeze in small containers and use within a couple of weeks.
Meatballs for Wedding Soup
- 4 cups chicken soup, defatted, skin and bones removed
- 1 pound ground sirloin
- 1 egg
- 1 slice white bread, grated
- 3 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 garlic clove grated
- 6 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Bring chicken soup to simmer in a nonreactive pot.
- Mix together 3 tablespoons parsley and remaining ingredients.
- Shape beef mixture into tiny balls.
- Drop meatballs into simmering soup.
- Skim and discard foam and fat that rises to surface of soup.
- Simmer 10 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through.
- Add simmering soup and meatballs to remaining soup.
- Add diced cooked chicken and reserved escarole to soup and heat through.
- Sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons parsley before serving.