Matzo ball soup will keep you warm

November 10, 2017

With the end of daylight saving time, we have to acknowledge that summer is officially over. If there were any questions, this week's weather brought a blast of cold temperatures. For me, this was encouragement to make several batches of soup, especially some I can freeze to have on hand when one of us starts the sneezing stage of a cold.

It must have been the notion of rich chicken stock that inspired me to make one of my favorites - matzo ball soup. There are a couple of ways to serve this soup at home: buy a can or boxed mix and simmer on your stovetop, assemble the ingredients and make it from scratch (my choice), or pick up a container of take-out from a local Jewish deli.

I first tasted matzo ball soup at the (now defunct) Carnegie Deli in New York City. It arrived at the table wafting steam and the rich aroma of chicken. The soup bowl was shallow and wide with plenty of room for two tennis-ball-sized matzo balls garnished with bright green parsley flakes.

Apparently, trends in matzo ball soup have changed. The last few times I've ordered it (including at Jewish delis in Rehoboth and New York City) there was so much more in the bowl. Not just the simple combination of fluffy matzo balls in broth, but matzo balls plus a mess of noodles, sliced carrots, chunks of chicken - almost a stew instead of soup.

As you can see from the photo, the version I prefer is much more basic, with two essential elements: chicken broth and fluffy, flavorful matzo balls. The first is pretty simple to make - simmer roasted chicken bones with the contents of your "stock bag." This is a zip-top plastic bag into which you toss all the trimmed vegetable ends you don't need for your main recipes.

I keep my stock bag in the freezer, filled with the green ends of leeks, mushroom stems, carrot tops, leftover onions and all the edible bits and pieces that can enhance the flavor of my broth. Once the mixture has simmered long enough, strain out the solids and keep the broth in a sealed container in the fridge (or freezer) until you need it.

The second part of the soup is a little trickier. Matzo balls can be described as sinkers or floaters. Just as their name implies, sinkers have a dense texture and usually rest on the bottom of your bowl. Floaters have the more desirable fluffiness that allows them to swim around the surface. If you want to disguise the exact nature of your matzo balls, follow the lead of Carnegie Deli and use very shallow bowls.

Another decision is size. You'll see matzo balls as large as softballs or as small as golf balls (my preference is for these). Make sure you season the matzo meal mixture with toasted onion bits, parsley and some salt. Seltzer water and baking soda in this recipe help create a light texture. And, if you want to add carrots, noodles or chicken to the broth - go right ahead, you're in good company.

I've also included a recipe for Italian Wedding Soup, which is not so called because it was a wedding feast staple. In Italian, "minestra maritata" means "married soup" to describe the combination of meat and greens in a clear broth. Translating the phrase to English is how we got "wedding soup." I love it because of the tiny meatballs and tender spinach. So, whether they feature tiny meatballs or giant matzo balls, here are two recipes to keep you busy in their preparation and warm in the weeks ahead.

Matzo Ball Soup

3/4 C matzo meal
1 t toasted onion bits
1/4 t baking soda
1 t salt
3 eggs
3 T melted butter
3 T seltzer water
1 T minced parsley
2 T olive oil
1 diced onion
3 chopped carrots
3 chopped celery stalks
1/2 C white wine
2 qts chicken stock
bay leaf
salt & pepper, to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine matzo meal, toasted onion, baking soda and salt; set aside. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, melted butter, seltzer water and parsley. Pour the wet ingredients into the matzo meal and stir until evenly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When the matzo mixture has rested, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. With wet hands, scoop out 2T portions of the matzo mixture and roll into balls; set on a piece of waxed paper. When all the matzo meal has been rolled, place the balls in the boiling water with a slotted spoon.

Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer so they don't fall apart. Cover and cook for 25 minutes. While the matzo balls cook, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery; sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any browned bits.

Add chicken stock and bay leaf; simmer for about 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.

To serve once the matzo balls are cooked, place two or three in each soup bowl and ladle broth over them.

Italian Wedding Soup

1 small onion
1/3 C chopped parsley
1 egg
1 t minced garlic
1 t salt
1 slice bread
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz ground beef
8 oz ground pork
12 C chicken broth
10-oz box frozen chopped spinach
6 oz Acini de Pepe pasta
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside. Grate the onion into a large mixing bowl. Add parsley, egg, garlic and salt; whisk to combine. Shred the bread in small pieces into the bowl and stir. Add cheese, beef and pork, and stir to thoroughly combine. Shape the mixture into very small meatballs (about the size of a grape) using a melon baller. Arrange meatballs in a single layer on the baking sheet; set aside. Bring the broth to a boil in large soup pot. Add spinach and cook until defrosted. Add the uncooked meatballs and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring to make sure they don't stick together. Add the pasta and cook for about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, ladle into soup bowls and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.