This soup has grown extremely popular outside of Italy, but you might be surprised to learn that, while it often appears as part of a traditional Italian Easter, Christmas or San Silvestro (December 26) feast. It has nothing to do with Italian weddings and never has.
The confusion stems from the fact that the common name used in English is a bit of a mistranslation of the Italian name for this soup, a traditional dish originating in Naples made with an assortment of dark-green, somewhat bitter vegetables (which could include any combination of: chicory, escarole, an ancient Neapolitan curly kale called torzella, Savoy cabbage, puntarelle, borage, etc.), meat (traditionally any combination of boiled pork and/or beef, guanciale, pork ribs, ham hocks, lard, and/or sausage) and a rich meat broth.
Basically, like many Italian recipes, it was a peasant dish, made with whatever leftover bits of meat one might have and plenty of local and wild greens.
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 1/4 teaspoon dried, crushed red chile pepper flakes (or 1 small dried red peperoncino chile pepper, crushed)
- 6 cups meat broth (chicken, beef, or a mixture of the two -- homemade broth is, of course, far superior, but you can use canned to save time)
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped in half
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 large pieces
- 1 celery stalk, cut into 3 large pieces
- 4 fresh, sweet (non-spicy) Italian sausages, casing removed and discarded and sausage broken into small, 1-inch pieces
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), washed and roughly chopped
- 1 head escarole or chicory, washed and roughly chopped
- 1/2 head Savoy cabbage, washed and roughly chopped
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (or a half-and-half mixture of both)
- In a large, deep stockpot, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat until the garlic is just fragrant and very lightly colored, about 1 minute. Add the crushed red pepper and simmer for about 30 seconds.
- Add the broth, onion, carrot, celery and sausage pieces, cover, lower the heat to low and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. (If you happen to have any leftover Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds, these would be a great addition to enrich your broth! Throw them in together with the onion, carrot, and celery.)
- Meanwhile, blanch the chopped greens in abundant salted boiling water, 1 to 2 minutes, then drain well. This eliminates the excess bitterness.
- Remove the onion, carrot, and celery from the broth and discard (discard any cheese rinds at this point also, if you're using them). Transfer the blanched greens into the broth and let simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the greens are tender and the broth is rich and savory.
- Serve with freshly grated cheese sprinkled on top and slices of grilled or toasted crusty bread. A white wine, such as a Fiano or Greco di Tufo, would be a good pairing.
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