Serves 8 to 10
The little meatballs make this a hearty soup that is a meal in itself. To make it even heartier, you could add a handful of rice or a small pasta shape, like orzo or ditalini. A tip: preseasoned sausage meat also makes a quick and easy base for meatballs. This soup is also known as zuppa di matrimonio.
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
- 1 onion, cut into chunks
- 2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
- 1 medium carrot, cut into chunks
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- Kosher salt
- Peperoncino flakes
- 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and finely chopped
- 1 large bunch escarole, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch shreds
- 1 large bunch spinach, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch shreds
- 4 ounces day-old crustless country bread
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup freshly grated mild provolone
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Put the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, basil, and parsley in the work bowl of a food processor, and pulse to make a smooth pestata. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pestata, and cook until it dries out and begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 5 quarts water and the bay leaves, and season with 2 teaspoons salt and a big pinch of peperoncino. Bring to a rapid simmer, and add the fennel. Simmer until the soup has reduced by about a quarter, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Add the escarole and spinach, and continue to simmer until all of the vegetables are tender, and the soup has reduced by another inch or so, 20 to 30 minutes more.
Meanwhile, for the meatballs, put the bread in a large bowl and add water to cover. Soak until softened; then squeeze out the water. Return the squeezed-out bread to the bowl, and add the sausage, beaten eggs, provolone, Grana Padano, and parsley. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands. Form into 3/4-inch meatballs. Drop these into the soup toward the end, and poach until they’re cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Remove the bay leaves from the soup, season with salt if needed, and serve.