How to Make Italian (American) Wedding Soup & It's Origins

(copyright 2011 art of living,PrimaMedia,Inc/Maria Liberati;from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati TM BLOG)

Some meals are famous for where they are from and some are famous for who made them. Others are famous for being known around the world. This is what the Famous Recipes articles have been all about. But for this article, I am going to explain a famous Italian-American recipe that is inappropriately named and not famous in Italy.

The meal is called Italian Wedding Soup. Most people would assume that the name comes from it being served at weddings in Italy. But the name is actually a mistranslation into English from the Italian minestra maritata. The term would be better translated as “married flavors,” which also better explains the excellent mix of meats and greens, something the Italians mean when they say two foods are married.

More amazing about this recipe is that, as old as it is, it has almost completely died out in Italy. Italian-American Food Historian Donna Gabaccia says that wedding soup “probably arrived in Naples with the Spanish,” which explains the word maritata, a common phrase in southern Italy meaning “married”. But since it was popular before pasta was introduced, and since it was made to be a single-course meal, wedding soup is no longer around.

Except in the United States, that is, where wedding soup is most popular in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Gabbaccia, who has worked as a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh even believes that the wedding soup eaten today is exclusive to that area. She has noted that immigrants to the United States may assimilate in certain ways but they’re recipes do not – instead “everybody else adapts”.

Even though some recipes are not what we think they are, that doesn’t affect their taste. Sometimes the famous items in history can fool us, mostly because no-one really knows why they are famous. But wedding soup is famous because it is delicious, no matter if it is named wrong. After all, a wedding soup by any other name…

Italian Wedding Soup


¼ cup plain breadcrumbs

½ cup milk

1 egg yolk

½ cup grated Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese

3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (leaves only, no stems)

3 Fresh garlic cloves, minced

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp dried oregano

1/3 lb of ground beef

1/3 pound ground pork

1/3 pound ground veal


1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves , minced

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

3 quarts low-sodium chicken broth

2 pounds of escarole leaves steamed and chopped

1 cup orzo (pasta)

3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves

Salt and pepper

For the meatballs:

Mix breadcrumbs and meat in a large bowl until smooth.

Mix in other ingredients.

Knead by hand.

Form 1-inch meatballs (~55) and refrigerate until firm (~30 mins.).

For the soup:

Heat oil in pot over medium-high until shimmering.

Saute garlic and red pepper flakes until fragrant (~30 seconds).

Add broth and bring to boil.

Stir in escarole and simmer until softened (10 – 15 mins.). Stir in meatballs and pasta, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through and pasta is tender (10 mins.).

Stir in parsley and salt and pepper to taste.


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