Why do they call it Italian wedding soup?

Italian wedding soup gets its name from the finely chopped greens and meatballs that resemble wedding decorations. The soup is believed to have originated in Puglia, Italy and was often served at weddings. Over time, the name “Italian wedding soup” stuck as the soup gained popularity in the United States.

What are the origins of Italian wedding soup?

The exact origins of Italian wedding soup are unknown, but it likely dates back to at least the 16th century in southern Italy. The soup is thought to have originated in Puglia, where greens like escarole and meats like tiny meatballs were plentiful. The classic Italian wedding soup combines escarole, meatballs, and chicken broth.

In Italy, the soup is known as “minestrone in brodo con polpettine,” which translates to “minestrone in broth with little meatballs.” It’s called “minestrone” because of the addition of vegetables like escarole, carrots, and celery. The tiny meatballs are what resemble confetti or wedding decorations, leading to the soup’s association with weddings.

Why was the soup served at weddings?

In Italy, weddings were huge feasts that lasted all day and night. Multiple courses were served, often starting with a brothy soup. Italian wedding soup with mini meatballs and greens was likely served at wedding feasts for its light, but filling quality.

The vegetables, greens, and tiny meatballs resembled confetti and wedding favors. So the soup became known as a dish specially made for weddings. While weddings in Italy have changed over time, the tradition of serving Italian wedding soup remains.

How did the soup become popular in America?

Italian immigrants brought the soup to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Italian food culture spread across the States, so did Italian wedding soup.

The soup likely became popular for a few reasons:

  • It’s tasty, light, and comforting
  • It’s relatively inexpensive to make
  • The ingredients are readily available
  • Italian food culture was growing rapidly in America

By the mid 20th century, Italian wedding soup was a staple soup found across the country. The name stuck, even though it was no longer just relegated to weddings. Today, the soup remains a favorite comfort food.

How did Italian wedding soup evolve in America?

As Italian wedding soup spread across America, small changes were made:

  • Chicken broth largely replaced heavier meat broths
  • Acini de pepe pasta and orzo were added
  • More vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions were included
  • Cheese was sometimes added
  • Meatballs got slightly larger

These changes made the soup heartier and more filling for American tastes. But the essential ingredients—broth, greens, and tiny meatballs—remained. The name Italian wedding soup stuck, even as the soup changed a bit. Today there are many variations, but most stay true to the original flavours.

What are the key ingredients in Italian wedding soup?

While ingredients can vary, Italian wedding soup typically contains:

  • Meatballs: Tiny meatballs are a hallmark of the soup. A mix of ground pork, beef, veal is traditional.
  • Greens: Escarole is preferred, but spinach, chard, or kale also work.
  • Chicken broth: Broth provides the base and flavor.
  • Pasta: Small pasta like acini de pepe or orzo.
  • Vegetables: Onions, carrots, celery, and garlic are commonly used.
  • Parsley: Chopped parsley adds freshness.
  • Parmesan: Grated parmesan offerssaltiness.

The melding of flavors from the broth, greens, pasta, and mini meatballs is what defines Italian wedding soup. But the exact ingredients can change depending on the region or family recipe.

Classic Italian wedding soup ingredients

An authentic, classic Italian wedding soup contains:

  • Chicken broth
  • Escarole
  • Tiny meatballs of ground pork and beef
  • Eggs
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

The simple, but flavorful ingredient list lets the taste of the broth and greens shine. Modern versions build on this base with more vegetables and pasta.

How is Italian wedding soup traditionally made?

Making authentic Italian wedding soup is a labor of love. Here are the key steps:

Make the classic tiny meatballs

Mix ground pork, beef, eggs, parmesan, parsley, garlic, and pepper. Form into mini 1/4″ meatballs. Cook the meatballs gently in chicken broth until done.

Cook the greens

Sauté escarole or other greens in olive oil with garlic until wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Make the chicken broth

Simmer chicken bones or parts in water with celery, onion, and carrots to extract flavor. Strain and season the broth.

Combine everything

Add the cooked greens and meatballs to the broth. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes to meld the flavors. Season with parmesan and parsley.

The result is a fragrant, herbaceous broth loaded with meatballs and greens. Simple, but extremely tasty!

What are some common variations?

While the original is hard to improve, many delicious Italian wedding soup variations have developed. Common changes include:

Pasta addition

Small pastas like acini de pepe or orzo are often added. The starch helps thicken the broth.

More vegetables

Onions, carrots, and celery are usually cooked in the broth for added flavor.

Different greens

Spinach, kale, chard, or arugula sometimes stand in for harder-to-find escarole.

Larger meatballs

More bite-sized meatballs make the soup heartier.

Cheese topping

Grated parmesan, pecorino, or ricotta salata can be passed at the table.

These small changes make the classic recipe more widely appealing. But the core broth, greens, and mini meatballs remain the staples.

What are some key tips for making great Italian wedding soup?

Here are some top tips for excellent homemade Italian wedding soup:

  • Use both pork and beef in the meatballs for best flavor.
  • Keep the meatballs tiny, around 1/4 inch.
  • Sauté the greens just until wilted, not mushy.
  • Simmer the broth for 1-2 hours to extract maximum flavor.
  • Add greens, meatballs, and pasta at the end to avoid overcooking.
  • Finish with quality olive oil and parmesan for richness.
  • Use Acini de pepe pasta for authenticity.
  • Let the flavors meld for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Taking time to build deep flavor in the broth and properly finish the soup makes all the difference. When in doubt, keep it simple and let the quality ingredients shine through.

What are some fun variations to try?

Once you master the basics, try these fun ways to change up Italian wedding soup:

Turkey Meatballs

For a lighter soup, swap ground turkey for the beef and pork.

Chicken Meatballs

Ground chicken makes a leaner, gluten-free meatball.

Vegetarian “Meatballs”

Use mushrooms, chickpeas, or lentils to make faux meatballs.

Italian Sausage

Crumbled spicy sausage adds a kick of flavor.

Kale and Beans

Add cannellini or borlotti beans along with kale for extra nutrition.

Pesto Drizzle

Top with a fresh basil pesto swirl for herby flavor.

Parmesan Crisps

Bake parmesan cheese into crispy garnishes for crunch.

The possibilities are endless! Use your favorite ingredients or what you have on hand to make a unique Italian wedding soup.

What are some common ways to serve Italian wedding soup?

This versatile soup can be served:

  • As a first course: The brothy soup excels as a light starter for a meal.
  • As an entrée: Loading it up with meatballs, pasta and veggies makes it hearty enough for a main dish.
  • With salad and bread: Round out the meal with a crisp salad and crusty bread.
  • Garnished with cheese: Let guests sprinkle on grated parmesan for added flavor.
  • With garlic bread: Cheesy garlic bread complements the flavors perfectly.
  • With wine: Pair with a light white wine or an earthy red.

However you serve it, be sure to pass extra parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes for guests to customize their bowls.

What are the best tips for storing and reheating Italian wedding soup?

To keep Italian wedding soup fresh and tasty:

  • Store soup and meatballs separately. The meatballs can turn mushy in the broth.
  • Keep soup in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
  • Freeze for longer storage up to 3 months.
  • Reheat gently on the stovetop or microwave, adding water if too thick.
  • Add fresh spinach or pasta right before serving for best texture.
  • Garnish again with parsley and parmesan before eating.

Avoid overheating the soup or it can turn bitter. Bring back brightness with a squeeze of lemon juice if needed.


Italian wedding soup brings together delicious flavors from tender meatballs, healthy greens, and a deeply savory broth. While the name evokes its traditional ties to marriages, this soup can be enjoyed any time. Make a big batch and freeze the leftovers for quick access to this comforting classic.

With its endless variations and simple ingredients, Italian wedding soup is sure to remain a staple for years to come. The next time you crave something warm and nourishing, look no further than this hearty soup rooted in tradition.

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