by - 5:33 AM

Minestra maritata hails from Basilicata, the region in southern Italy to which I
dedicated a whole chapter in Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy. Everyone who has
even the slightest bit of Italian heritage has enjoyed wedding soup (though not
always at a wedding). It should be no surprise that many other cultures have similar
soups of vegetables and little meatballs—such soups always have a special place at
the table. This is one of my favorites, and with some crusty bread it can become a
complete meal.
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 medium stalks celery with leaves, cut into chunks
1 small carrot, cut into chunks
4 plump cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
7 quarts cold water
1 head escarole (about 1 pound), cut into ½-inch shreds
1 bunch Swiss chard (about 1 pound), cut into ½-inch shreds
1 large fennel bulb (about 1 pound), trimmed and sliced ¼ inch thick
1 pound zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 3 small zucchini)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 ounces stale country bread, crusts removed (about 3 or 4 slices)
½ cup milk, or more as needed
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (without fennel seeds)
1 large egg, beaten
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus more for serving
Freshly grated pecorino cheese (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmigiano-
Reggiano), plus more for passing
Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Using the food processor, pulse the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and basil until they
form a smooth paste, or pestata. Heat the ⅓ cup olive oil in a large soup pot over high
heat, and scrape in the pestata. Cook, stirring, until the pestata has dried out and just
begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Pour the cold water into the
pot, stir well, then cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer the broth for
about 15 minutes, blending the flavors; then stir in the greens, fennel, zucchini, and salt.
Return to a simmer, and cook, covered, for 45 minutes or so, until the greens are tender.
Remove the cover, and cook at an active simmer for another 45 minutes or longer, until
the soup has reduced a bit in volume and the flavors are concentrated.
While the soup simmers, prepare the meatballs: Tear the bread into chunks, put them
in a small bowl, and pour in just enough milk to cover them. Let soak until completely
saturated, then lift the bread out of the bowl and squeeze out the milk with your fists.
Tear the moistened bread into shreds, and toss them into a large bowl.
Remove the sausage meat from the casing, and crumble it into the shredded bread,
breaking up any clumps with your fingers. Pour the beaten egg over the meat, and
sprinkle the salt, freshly ground black pepper, and parsley on top. Fold and toss and
squeeze all the ingredients through your fingers to distribute them evenly. Scoop up a
small amount of the meat mix—about a heaping teaspoon—and roll it in your palms to
form a 1-inch ball (the size of a large grape). Continue to form balls until all the meat is
used up.
Meanwhile, fill a 4-quart saucepan with 3 quarts of lightly salted water to poach the
meatballs, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the meatballs, cover the pot, and return the
water to a boil quickly. Adjust the heat to keep the water simmering gently, and poach
the meatballs, uncovered, about 5 minutes, until cooked through. Lift them out with a
spider or strainer, let drain briefly, and drop them into the finished soup. Bring the soup
to a simmer, and cook meatballs and soup together for about 5 minutes.
Ladle the soup into warm bowls. Sprinkle each serving with parsley and some of the
grated cheese, and give it a drizzle of your best olive oil. Serve right away, passing more
cheese at the table.

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