A Hartman Riff on an Italian Classic

Everyone loves Italian Wedding Soup including us, but when we stumbled upon this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated we were intrigued by the atypical aromatics of anise and fennel as opposed to the standard celery and carrots. And according to the original directions, the broth gets simmered with ground pork and beef for a savory note. Although our grocery store didn’t have ground pork so Russ picked up meatloaf mix which included veal, beef and pork.

Skipping the fuss of a typical brodo doesn’t have to mean sacrificing flavor. By doctoring commercial chicken broth, you get comparably rich-tasting results in under an hour. HOWEVER, after reading the instructions, we could not fathom the thought of throwing away the meat once the broth was done! Instead we used our own homemade chicken stock which added plenty of flavor on its own, along with some prepackaged beef stock.


For the meatballs, beating the ground meat in a stand mixer distributes fat and moisture evenly so they have a springy bite. Plus, a few umami-packed ­porcini mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce amp up the broth’s meaty flavor. Substituting kale for the usual escarole was a “feel-good-about-yourself” swap—and a tasty one at that.

Without any fresh oregano on hand, we incorporated the dried herb, which had been picked directly from our garden in the fall and dehydrated, so it was “fresh” dried. Since Russ ordered about 30 packages of gluten-free pasta shapes a few months ago through Amazon.com, we have quite a selection and one of them was ditalini!

It’s best to use a rasp-style grater to process the onion and garlic for the meatballs.
Tubettini or orzo can be used in place of the ditalini.
If you don’t eat, beef, veal or pork, make ground chicken or turkey meatballs.



  • onion, chopped
  • fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and chopped
  • garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • ¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
  • ounces ground pork (we did NOT incorporate meat into our broth)
  • ounces 85 percent lean ground beef
  • bay leaf
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • cups beef broth
  • cups water


  • slice hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • tablespoons heavy cream
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • teaspoons finely grated onion
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • ounces ground pork
  • teaspoon baking powder
  • ounces 85 percent lean ground beef (we used a little over a pound of meatloaf mix in place of the beef and pork)
  • teaspoons minced fresh oregano
  • cup ditalini pasta
  • ½ pound kale, stemmed and cut into ½-inch pieces (6 cups)


The chopped fennel, onion, dried porcini mushrooms and bay leaf (we did not add meat to this step) are cooked for about 5 minutes.

Kale is sliced down into strips.

After all of the strained liquids are added to the pot and simmered for a half hour, the kale and pasta are added.

  1. Heat onion, fennel, garlic, porcini, pork, beef, (we did not add meat in this step) and bay leaf in Dutch oven over medium-high heat; cook, stirring frequently, until meats are no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add wine and Worcestershire; cook for 1 minute. Add chicken broth (homemade if possible), beef broth, and water; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
When forming the meatballs, it’s best if you keep your hands wet, so keep dipping your fingertips into a bowl of water and touch your palms with the wet fingers after every two or three balls.
We made the meatballs earlier in the day and placed them on a wax paper lined baking sheet, covered with saran wrap and refrigerated until ready to use.
Without searing the meatballs beforehand, they are added at the end until heated through.
  1. While broth simmers, combine bread, cream, Parmesan, onion, garlic, and pepper to taste in bowl; using fork, mash mixture to uniform paste.
  2. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat pork, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt on high speed until smooth and pale, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed.
  3. Add bread mixture, beef, and oregano; mix on medium-low speed until just incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Using moistened hands, form heaping teaspoons of meat mixture into smooth, round meatballs; you should have 30 to 35 meatballs. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
  4. Strain broth through fine-mesh strainer set over large bowl or container, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Wipe out Dutch oven and return broth to pot. (Broth can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Skim off fat before reheating.)
  5. Return broth to simmer over medium-high heat. Add pasta and kale; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add meatballs; return to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until meatballs are cooked through and pasta is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

The soup made for great lunches at work.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Italian Wedding Soup

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