This week the weather started cooling before soaring back into the 90s. Just enough time for me to make soup. But I couldn’t decide between albondigas and pasta fagioli. So I figured, why not have the best of both worlds?
I lifted the meatballs from Biba’s Trattoria Cooking cookbook, with a few changes. I will make the meatballs smaller than the ones in the picture next time. The stock is open to interpretation. I like the flavor of “real” carrots with the tops on, but I’m willing to take shortcuts for the stock. You can probably cook the soup much faster, but I like to take my time.
Around 10 cups beef broth
1 (14.5-oz) can chopped, peeled tomatoes
1 bunch fresh carrots, sliced
2 small zucchini
Bring beef broth and tomatoes to a boil. Very lightly dust meatballs with flour. handle them very carefully. Drop a few at a time into the boiling broth. Let boil for about an hour.
Turn soup down to a simmer and add vegetables. Cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
2 large eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 pound ground beef or veal
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix ingredients together with your hands until well-combined. Roll 2 to 3 Tablespoons of meat at a time gently between the palms of your hands to form small meatballs.
You know how some cooks tell you they don’t have a recipe because they just throw in a little of this and a little of that until it looks right? I hate to do that to you, but stock is an inexact science. I will do my best to guess amounts. I used chopped tomatoes instead of tomato juice or puree because I had a box of Italian tomatoes, which were more flavorful and mushy than “American” chopped tomatoes. The young butcher at the market didn’t know what “trimmings” were, so I told him to give me “the ground beef before it was ground” and paid full price. I miss the good old days when butchers gladly handed you an abundance of assorted trimmings. And at Eschbachs, they used to give me slices of sausage and little German kinderbourbon candies too, sigh. Of course I was 5 years old.
3 pounds beef trimmings or stewing beef
1 pound veal (whatever you can get, use less if it’s $$$)
2 marrow bones or oxtails (preferably oxtails)
1 onion, quartered
1 head garlic, peeled and smashed
3 stalks celery, including tops
1/2 pound of baby carrots (the ones in a bag)
1 big bunch of fresh rosemary
1 big bunch fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
2 cups pureed tomatoes or chopped, diced tomatoes
1 quart chicken broth
Water to cover by around 2″
Throw everything into a pot. Cook the hell out of it, for maybe 5 hours. Skim the top of the icky beef froth occasionally.
Let cool a little so you don’t burn the hell out of yourself and strain into another pot. Yes, I’m assuming you have as many gigantic pots as I do. If desperate, use a giant bowl, a lasagne dish, the Stanley Cup, whatever.
Return pot to stove (If you used a bowl or the Stanley cup you will have to pour the broth back in the original pot), add some salt, and let boil and boil until it is reduced to around 10 cups and tastes right (see, this is the vague crazy-making part of recipes).
If it boils down to 10 cups and you feel like it is still bland, keep reducing, add some more herbs, and later make up for it with chicken broth. Cool overnight, and remove the fat that has accumulated on the top of the pot. Tah Dah! That wasn’t confusing at all, was it? The good news is you can basically do whatever you want here. It’s hard to screw up. Go to town.