My Nana was not Italian Wedding Soup

My Nana was Danish. And despite living in South Jersey for at least 40 years, did not really cook Italian. I honestly cannot remember one lasagna or one spaghetti and meatball meal at her table. And her recipe boxes, while filled with food from around the world, make no mention of anything remotely close to marinara.

However, I grew up completely fascinated by all things Italian. My father would share stories of his travels to Venice and Sicily during World War II. I would gaze endlessly at photos of Roman architecture, planning someday to write or build or create something Roman. Once a week we had spaghetti and meatballs–homemade slow cooked red sauce with homemade meatballs. And Mike and I honeymooned in Rome, savoring the food, the wine, the architecture, the churches and the leather. I love Italian!

Italian Wedding Soup is a classic and so many of my friends, whose Nana’s were actually Italian, shared their tips and tricks for this recipe. My recipe is like a wedding of all that heritage and knowledge and culinary genius.

Some notes: I had a big bag of baby spinach, so I used it in place of escarole. I also used orzo, but as Mike’s Aunt Lydia suggested, those tiny little ball pastas, Acici de Pepe, would be excellent in place of the orzo. One old school addition is to drop a couple eggs beaten with Parmesan cheese into the hot soup and stir with a spoon until thin strands appear. I did not do this for my recipe, but think I will try the next go around.

The stuff:
Olive oil
3 large carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
8 cups chicken stock
2 cups orzo, cooked as per package
4 cups baby spinach

For the meatballs:
1 lb ground beef
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 clove of garlic, grated
1/2 Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 grated locatelli or parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
2 T. Olive oil

Grated locatelli or Parmesan cheese for serving

1. In a large soup pot, heat about 1 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, garlic and onion. Cook, stirring, until onion is softened and garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make meatballs. Combine beef, eggs, garlic, breadcrumbs and cheese in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Form mixture into small meatballs (1/4 – 1/2 inch in diameter).

4. In a large frying pan, over medium heat, warm 2 T. of olive oil. Gently add meatballs to frying pan and brown on all sides. Use a slotted spoon to remove meatballs from frying pan to simmering broth.

5. Heat meatballs in broth until cooked through about 10-15 minutes.

6. Stir in orzo and baby spinach. Stirring to wilt spinach. Top with a sprinkle of locatelli cheese.

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Sunday Dinner: Lemon Rosemary Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Carrots

The first time I made a whole roast chicken, it was a massive disaster. First, I think my chicken may have been partially frozen. Second, I was following some complicated French recipe that appeared to be written in Franglais–a hybrid of French and English that was impossible to decipher. And finally, I was in a rush and charred the outside beyond recognition. The result: a charred, raw, inedible bird. I still feel bad for the chicken gave who gave his life for that complete catastrophe.

However, the kitchen is a forgiving place and luckily, my oven easily forgets. After much obsessing and planning, I finally made this juicy, savory, lemony roast chicken which may be worthy of place on a French country table. The recipe is simple, but does have oodles of steps–which is why this is a meal ideally prepared on a Sunday.

On the side roasted potatoes infused with lemon and carrots, plus a yummy green salad with pan fried croutons and dijon vinaigrette. Grab a bottle of French wine and you will send all you will send all your dinner guests swooning.

Dedicate some time to this recipe and savor a nice, slow meal with all your favorite people next Sunday!

The Stuff
One 4-4 1/2 lb chicken, giblets removed
4 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 whole lemon
6 cloves garlic, peeled
Zest of one lemon
2 T. Unsalted butter, softened
1 T. dried Rosemary; plus 1 T.
1 T. Honey; plus 2 T.
1 t. dried thyme
1 cup baby carrots

The Work
1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Salt and pepper inside and outside of chicken. Let rest at room temperature.
3. Boil 8 cups of water in a large pot. Add potatoes, whole lemon and whole garlic cloves. Boil for ten minutes.
4. While potatoes are cooking, prepare an herb butter. Mix butter, lemon zest, 1 T. Rosemary and 1 t. Honey.
5. Rub herb butter underneath chicken skin, loosening as you go.
6. Drain potatoes. Remove lemon and garlic. (set potatoes aside) Poke holes in lemon with a fork and stuff inside chicken cavity, along with garlic, 1 T. Rosemary and 1 t. thyme.
7. Cover outside of chicken with remaining 2 T. of honey.
8. Place chicken and 1 cup baby carrots in a roasting pan. Cook 45 minutes.
9. After 45 minutes, add potatoes to the roasting pan and spoon juices over top. Roast an additional 45 minutes or until potatoes are golden and chicken is cooked through.
10. Let stand 10 minutes before carving.

Serve with a simple greens salad and pan fried croutons. (recipe coming soon!)
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Grocery Store Tourism: Houston

While to some, grocery shopping while on vacation may seem completely contradictory to the very concept of vacation, for me it a much anticipated piece of my itinerary. I’ve brought pasta from Italy, spices from Greece, deli meat from New York, deep dish pizza from Chicago and tortillas from Texas. I love foraging the spice aisles for items I’ve never seen and perusing the bakery to see what fresh breads I can grab.

There is no better way to get to know the locals than to check out what they eat at home. From local wines to fresh bread, prepared specialities and local, super fresh produce, the local grocery store and farmers market are both prime tourist spots for the aspiring ecotourism interested in getting to know everything through the eyes of those who live there.

One of my favorite grocery destinations is Houston. We lived there for a summer when Lily was a proton radiation patient at MD Anderson. My mother in law, Olga, was the perfect tour guide, introducing me to all the many amazing Tex- Mex delights. There are barbecue sauces and rubs, a plethora of hot sauces, a multitude of Mexican seasonings and my favorite: fresh made HEB tortillas.

HEB, which stands for “Here Everthing’s Better,” is a stellar combination of Whole Foods and for those of you blessed to be in the north east, Wegmans. There are amazing prepared foods, beautiful, local produce, great meal ideas and of course, my beloved Tortillas. For a little over $3, you can snag a 20- pack of warm, tender, flakily melt in your mouth tortillas. Olga also have a stack waiting for me– and I can eat these beauties straight out of the bag. And I always bring back a supply, to keep me remembering all that delicious Texas food.

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