Frozen meatballs quickly make staple Italian soup

Homemade soups in the freezer, as this blog’s previous post vouched, can salvage suppertime on stressful, strenuous days.

Frozen in quart-sized containers, most soups placed directly into a pan on the stovetop will completely thaw and come up to serving temperature in about 15 minutes. A frozen quart of plain stock will liquefy even more quickly, furnishing a blank canvas for concocting impromptu soups from other staples in the freezer and pantry.

Last winter, this blog suggested bathing miniature frozen wontons directly in simmering stock. Add quick-cooking veggies, such as sliced baby bok choy and mushrooms, maybe even canned bamboo shoots, if you have them, and dinner’s ready in minutes.

Similarly, just borrowed from a different cuisine, is the concept of Italian wedding soup, which I can pull off in a pinch with homemade, frozen meatballs. Miniature meatballs also are readily available in grocers’ freezer sections. And if dropped into hot stock, they don’t even need to be defrosted.

The following recipe from Tribune News Service calls for pairing premade meatballs with a small pasta shape and chopped greens, which wilt into the soup almost instantaneously. While orzo is typical, it isn’t the only option.

Look for fun soup shapes on grocers’ Mexican foods aisle, which is where I’ve found them at Food 4 Less in Medford. My kids love alphabet noodles, stars and little seashells. You also could stir in a ½ cup or more of leftover cooked rice.

And although kale and spinach often are close at hand, if you’re shopping for this recipe, consider trying escarole, a bitter green in the chicory family traditionally favored in this soup. I also like it because it lasts longer in the fridge than a head of leaf lettuce or even romaine.

Tribune News Service photo

Easy Italian Wedding Soup

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for optional garnish

1 1/3 cups chopped yellow onion

2/3 cup chopped carrot

2/3 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons minced garlic

6 cups reduced-sodium or unsalted chicken broth

3/4 cup orzo or other small pasta, preferably whole-wheat

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

24 small cooked chicken or turkey meatballs (12 ounces)

4 cups baby spinach or curly kale

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, for about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the broth, cover and bring to a boil. Add the orzo, oregano and salt; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until orzo is just tender, for about 9 minutes.

Stir in the meatballs and spinach (or kale); cook until meatballs are heated through and spinach is wilted, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve sprinkled with the cheese, if desired, and drizzled with additional oil.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from Eating Well magazine, January/February issue.

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