You're Gonna Love My Balls

croppy

After all, they’re perfectly tender and have just a hint of fennel. What’s not to love?

cheating

Autumn is being a little spastic with the weather lately; it’s a bit warmer than it should be, and last night it actively tried to kill us with hail the size of Jack Russell Terriers. Still, we’re firmly into October, and that means it’s high time for some damn soup. This soup is a lot like a soup my mom used to make when I was little, mini meatball soup with beans and greens. Ain’t no one don’t like no mini meatball soup.

Well, except that I hated her soup because her green of choice was escarole, a vegetable that activates my gag reflex without fail and totally obliterates the joybites that are teeny tiny meatballs. But escarole aside, ain’t no one don’t like no mini meatball soup.

I started off by making some cheater’s chicken broth (from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper), something everyone should know how to do: just store-bought stock simmered with a canned tomato, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay, peppercorns and a little wine, but so much bang for the buck. The tomato is key, and it was worth the price of admission for that tip alone. Public Radio saves the day again!

MEAT

While my cheater’s stock simmered I dealt with the meat, a pound of ground beef split into 3/4 pound (for soup meatballs) and 1/4 pound (for dogs) segments. I doctored up the soup meat with salt, pepper, garlic and a plentiful helping of fennel seed.

While I was making up the stock, I wondered why I don’t make mini meatball soup more often. I mean, it’s quick, easy, hearty and filled with delicious nostalgia. Then I remembered that rolling countless tiny meatballs? OH THE TEDIUM. It takes, like, a thousand hours. No joke. And this wasn’t even a very big pot of soup. It doesn’t help that I’m completely anal retentive and require each and every meatball to be exactly the same size. (I start to slip up near the end as the photo clearly illustrates – look at that little weenie in the lower left corner – and IT MAKES ME FUCKING INSANE.)

you like my balls?

Okay, I may be overstating the case just a little and I will pause for a moment to take a deep breath. But it’s still tedious, I’m still anal and raw ground beef still feels like blech. So there you go: there is actually a very real reason why I don’t make mini meatball soup more often. I shall wonder no more.

My balls waited on the counter for the stock to finish up; I also opened, drained and rinsed a can of cannellini beans and pulled a box of frozen spinach out of the freezer.

poaching

When the stock was sufficiently flavorful – it takes about 30-40 minutes to reach maximum flavorification – I popped in the meatballs and let them gently cook through in the hot stock. I added the beans, followed by the block of frozen spinach I unceremoniously dumped in. The soup is done with the meat is cooked and the spinach is thawed.

It’s an unfortunate fact that it is difficult to make this soup attractive because of the greyish hue of the poached meatballs. Since they’re not seared off first they never have a chance to take on any color so they end up looking like tiny gefilte fishes, and there’s really nothing to be done about that.

soup

Luckily they taste really good, so you can look past their somewhat unappetizing pallor.

I finished my bowl of soup off with some shavings of parm, which goes beautifully with the spinach.  The crackling bursts of fennel in the meatballs warms the palate, and the beans lend an earthy creaminess. Altogether, it was good enough to banish memories of those escarole horrors. It’s filling, relatively good for you and serves four for little more than the cost of some ground beef and a box of stock. Hooray for October!

Fennel Meatball Soup with Spinach and White Beans
4 c. chicken stock
3 tbsp. white wine
1/2 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1/2 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1/4 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp, black peppercorns
1 canned whole tomato
3/4 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. fennel seed
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 15oz. can cannellini beans
1 10oz. package frozen spinach*
grated or shaved parm
s+p

Make the cheater’s stock: combine the stock, wine, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, bay, peppercorns and tomato in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 40 minutes.

While the stock is simmering, mix up the beef, fennel and garlic along with some salt and pepper. Shape the meat into small meatballs, no more than one inch in diameter. No one wants full-size meatballs in their soup. Drain and rinse off the beans.

Discard the vegetables and aromatics from the stock. Add the meatballs and beans; stir gently to keep the meatballs separated.

Once the meatballs are cooked through, add the spinach. Simmer until the spinach is fully thawed, then simmer a few minutes more to help the flavors meld. Serve immediately, topping with the cheese.

*You can use a wide variety of greens – spinach, kale, chard, or even the detested escarole. If you’re using fresh, just wilt it right into the stock.

13 thoughts on “You're Gonna Love My Balls

  1. I’m making this tomorrow! It sounds fabulous and I can’t believe the just one canned tomatoe but I’m gonna do it your way Michelle! And my balls are gonna be perfect…every last one of them.
    And what day is this anyway? I thought it was Tues but you’re blogging recipes and half the neighbors have their recycling and garbage out a day early.
    What town are we in? Are we there yet? I’m hungry.

  2. i don’t think i’ve ever had escarole. i like the idea of some nice red chard for the soup. there would be a few changes i’d make. i make stock and freeze it for soups, stews and gravies, so i’d use that instead of store bought stuff (plus i have control over the sodium and since husband had a heart attack this year…) and i’d use diced tomato and leave them in. oh, and i’d leave the fennel out. i dislike fennel (or licorice flavouring of any sort) along with caraway (has a similar reaction to me as escarole does for you).

    hmmm…this sounds like a saturday soup making is coming up.

  3. Can you believe that something incredibly like this is on my meal plan for tomorrow? (wait, meal plan? who am I?) Except the stars aligned and I roasted chicken this weekend, so just spent this morning straining the stock I had made with the carcass (again, homemade stock? who am I?!). I’m thinking I might sear off the tiny meatballs anyway, because brown = flavor and lack of gefilte fish images. Oh, and best idea ever – when I have the patience, I make a few pounds worth of itty bitty meatballs (using a spring-loaded cookie scoop = pre-portioned!) and freeze them for later. Works like a charm for quickly whipping up soups and sauces and things. Y’know, as long as you don’t forget them in there.

  4. i wonder how a zesty herb would do in this, like arugula or watercress? hmmm…

    and i do believe i’ll be whipping up my turkey meatballs…

    let me tell you, you can do some good things with ground turkey, there’s just a couple of key things to rely on…i’ve successfully made kick ass ground turkey meatloaf, salisbury steak, chili, meatballs, sausage, picadillo, empanadas….mmm

  5. Odd! I just made 3 lbs of little chicken ones! I season well, throw in some finely chopped ‘srooms, onion, egg, and cook them in chicken broth. I bag ‘em up, strain the smega out of the broth cook that down with more ‘srooms, and then top off the bags. This time I cooked some pearled barley and tossed that in the bags, too. Freeze them up and whenever I’m in the mood just start a soup with broth, greens, veggies, toss a bag of balls and barley in at the end and voila! Wonderful!
    I do like the fennel bit though… love fennel!

  6. Interesting that you prefer spinach to escarole in your soup. I am not a huge fan of escarole, but I find if I’m making beans & greens soup, it has a much milder flavor. After a rather unfortunate incident with stracciatella, I stopped using spinach in my soups.

    Damn it! Now I want some meatball soup of my own. Now I’m going to be the one rolling all of those little meat balls. I could doctor up premade stock, but that pile of chicken spines and wing tips saved up in my freezer for future use as stock base would mock me.

  7. connie, it’s tuesday, we must be in belgium.

    naomi, it’s funny, i normally hate licorice flavored things, but i dig the fennel. weird. and good for you with your superior homemade stock.

    caitlin
    , i think trying to sear off dozens of tiny meatballs would send me over the edge. but that’s just me, and we’ve already established that i have problems.

    vera, i require your salisbury steak recipe.

    cynic, that sounds really good, especially with barley. yum.

    rachel, my favorite is actually chard, but i already had the spinach around.

    one day soon i’m gonna have to suck it up and just make some freaking homemade stock, especially since i just cleaned out the freezer and now have room to store it.

  8. Salisbury Steak
    (easier than i ever imagined.)

    steaks:
    ground turkey (i prefer the dark meat or mix)
    1/4 cup rolled oats
    milk (enough to cover oats)
    2-3 T Soy sauce
    Seasonings to your taste (marjoram, thyme, sage)
    minced onion or onion powder
    minced garlic or garlic powder
    olive oil

    Gravy:
    1 small onion, diced or sliced-Whatever Floats Your Boat
    1 pt mushrooms, again WFYB
    Butter or margarine
    flour
    flavorful stock
    salt and pepper

    soak the rolled oats in the milk for about 20 mins. In a hurry, I often nuke this until the milk is mostly absorbed and the oats are soft. These oats are SO key to keeping the moisture in the turkey, plus you get a serving of whole grains (WIN).

    mix the oats, soy (the soy sauce is the only thing that sticks to the turkey and gives it meatiness without being over the top salty)seasonings, onion garlic (I have, in a pinch, used ye olde onion soup mix) into the meat. mix in enough olive oil to give it some fat–like 1/4 cup?

    shape them into fat hamburger sized patties.

    heat your deep skillet and brown the patties. set them aside.

    toss the onions and mushrooms in with some butter and sautee until soft. sprinkle with flour and incorporate (you know what i’m talking about.) steadily whisk in the broth until you have a satisfactory gravy.

    add the patties back into the gravy and get them as covered up as possible. cover the pan and lower the heat to med/low and braise until cooked through (you can also finish it off in the oven–i like it this way.)

    serve with your preferred starch: mashed taters, rice, egg noodles…

    ah, comfort…i also recommend looking up the origins of Salisbury Steak in wiki…lol

  9. What if you baked them instead? High heat, then it’s really easy – just pop them into your soup long enough to reheat. Crusty bits + easy assembly on a busy weeknight = win, right? (Although searing them off could lead to a fun song revolving around “balls, balls, balls” which might be worth it in the end…

  10. I’ll second the advice to use a portion scoop. You still have to shape them into neat balls but it makes it so much faster. Plus you can make it a two-person job while still maintaining uniform balls.

  11. my aunt connie makes something similar, with escarole (WHICH I LOVE! COMMUNIST!) and she beats eggs with grated parm and pours it over the soup at the end of cooking, and pops a lid on. it steams into a fluffy cheesy souffle of yummy to go with your mini meatballs. :D

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