serves: Makes about 5 quarts
This soup has weathered well with the generations of the Italian immigrant families that have cooked it. As I travel through America and look for the flavors and recipes which the Italian immigrants brought with them, this recipe is a favorite. It is still cooked with nostalgia and reverence and at holidays, specifically in the homes of immigrants from southern Italy. It is one of those recipes that is predominantly shared when the whole family is at the table. While the “marriage” mostly likely refers to the marriage of the ingredients, the soup is also thought to give strength to newly married couple for their first wedding night
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 medium medium carrot, roughly chopped
10 large fresh basil leaves
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ teaspoon peperoncino
1 large fennel bulb, finely chopped, plus some fronds
1 pound zucchini, cut unto 1/2 inch chunks
1 large head escarole, coarsely shredded , (or half escarole, half spinach)
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
⅓ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspon kosher salt
In a food processor, combine the onion, garlic, celery, carrot and basil and pulse to make a fine-textured paste or 'pestata'. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, scrape in the pestata. Cook, stirring, until pestata dries out and begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 10 minutes. Pour in 7 quarts cold water and bring to a rapid simmer. Cover and cook 20 minutes, then add the fennel and zucchini.
Recover and let the soup cook at a rapid simmer for another 20 minutes, then add the escarole (or escarole and spinach). Uncover and cook until all of the greens are tender and the soup has reduced by about 1/3, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, ground beef, bread crumbs, grated cheese, parsley, egg and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well with your hands and form into 1-inch meatballs. Place meatballs on a sheet tray.
When greens are tender and the soup has reduced, gently add the meatballs. Cook until meatballs are cooked through, about 20 minutes more. Serve soup with more grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.