Friday, January 1, 2016

Week 1 - Soup

My third year of the 52 week cooking challenge has begun! (Technically week 1 of the challenge began before 2015 ended, but I figured I would wait until 2016 to actually post this.) The theme for the first week was soup, perfect for a cold wintry night. I decided to finally try to make one of my favorite soups - Italian wedding soup, based on Ina Garten's recipe on the Food Network.

The first part of the wedding soup project was making the meatballs. The ingredients for the meatballs (slightly adapted from the original) were:

- 3/4 lb ground turkey ($3.25)
- 1/2 lb chicken breakfast sausage (without casings) ($2.42)
- 2/3 cup Italian bread crumbs ($0.20)
- 4 minced garlic cloves ($0.08)
- 1/2 bunch of parsley, leaves chopped ($0.50)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano ($1.44)
- 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan (with extra grated to top the finished soup) ($1.50)
- 3 tbsp milk ($0.20)
- 1 egg, beaten ($0.20)
- salt and black pepper, a few grinds of each, more pepper than salt ($0.05)

The other soup ingredients (also slightly adapted) were:

- a couple tbsp olive oil ($0.40)
- 1 onion, finely chopped ($0.37)
- handful of carrots (about 6 or 7), chopped ($0.65)
- 1 bunch of celery, chopped ($1)
- 10 cups of water ($0)
- 3 very large spoonfuls of chicken bouillon ($1)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine ($1)
- 1 cup small pasta stars ($0.75)
- 1/2 bunch of dill, chopped ($0.50)
- 1 bag of baby spinach ($1.99)

The total for the wedding soup was about $17.50, with $9.84 being for the meatballs. (Note that the wine and pasta stars prices are complete guesses, since the wine is quite old (from our wedding reception leftovers) and the pasta stars were in the pantry for years from one of the Greek grocery stores (same trip as the kasha)). That made enough for both of us to eat plenty for dinner, as well as have some meatballs as an "appetizer" (more about that later), and have a few bowls of soup left for other meals. There probably would have been even more left over if we hadn't eaten all those meatballs before the soup. This was one of the most expensive challenges we've ever done (only Murica and Hawaiian came in with higher totals, but each of those was technically 2 dishes), but at least it was good.

The steps for the wedding soup were:

1. Prep for the meatballs - chop parsley, mince garlic, remove casings from chicken sausage, grate pecorino romano, grate parmesan, beat egg.

2. Add all meatball ingredients to a large bowl and combine together. (I used my hands rather than a fork like the recipe said).

3. Line sheet pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Make the meatballs and lay them spaced out (as much as possible) on the parchment paper. The original recipe said to use a teaspoon, but that didn't work so well for me after a while. Also, it was supposed to make about 40 meatballs, and at the teaspoon size, there definitely was way too much meat for 40 meatballs. I ended up making them bigger so they would all fit on the sheet pan. After a while, it was just easier to pick up the meat and roll the meatballs without the teaspoon.

5. Bake meatballs for about 35 minutes until cooked through and lightly browned.

6. While meatballs are baking, prep mirepoix - chop onion, chop carrots, chop celery (although I already did that and just pulled the celery from the freezer).

7. Heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium low heat and when hot, add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally.

8. While the vegetables are cooking, chop the dill and do any other prep work needed.

9. Once the vegetables are soft, add the chicken stock / water and chicken bouillon, as well as the wine. Bring soup to a boil. (This is the part that always takes forever on our stove and I don't know why.)

10. Once boiling, add the pasta stars and cook for about 8 minutes.

11. After that, add the dill and the meatballs, and then simmer for another minute or so.

12. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I did a few grinds of each, more pepper than salt.)

13. Add spinach and cook for a few minutes until wilted.

14. Spoon into bowls and top with some parmesan cheese.

This soup was pretty tasty. It took a really long time to make though. The recipe estimated 1 hour and 15 minutes for both prep and cooking, but it took at least double that. It usually takes me longer than the estimated time, but this was pretty extreme. I don't even know why it took so long. I guess I'm just that slow at prep work and water takes a really long time to boil. Since it took so long, we kept snacking on meatballs (well, most of that was me, but I did keep bringing some to A). We must have eaten at least 1/4 of the meatballs before they went into the soup, probably more.

Anyway, the flavor of the soup is really good. A said that next time maybe we should add more bouillon, and that sounds like a good idea to me. I hadn't put as much in because I was worried about it being too salty, but I think a little more wouldn't be too bad. The meatballs were a delicious combination, and I would consider making those again even without making the entire soup. Even with less meatballs in the soup because of our "snack," there were still enough meatballs to go around, which was good. This whole soup just tasted really healthy. Although not exactly the same as the wedding soup we get outside, especially because of the larger sized meatballs, we really liked this and would make it again (hopefully more quickly).

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