It's finally getting cold here in sunny California. Cold and rainy. So, I felt a nice soup and sammie night was in order (again).
The first menu that always comes to mind when soup and sammies are in order is Rachael Ray's Mini-Meatball Soup and Grilled Four Cheese Sandwiches. She also calls this Italian Wedding Soup and you can find it in her Comfort Foods cookbook.
Other than making the meatballs, this is a very easy chop-and-drop recipe. There's also a nice little "pocket of time" when the meatballs cook for you to make the grilled cheese sammies. So, despite the length of the recipe and ingredients, it can be made in around 30-40 minutes. And if you have a George Foreman Grill, then use it as a panini press!
Because of the lack of many things in my grocery store and my own laziness, I had to make lots of substitutions. Here's the recipe with my comments in brackets:
Mini-Meatball/Italian Wedding Soup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan in a slow stream
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground beef, pork and veal combined [There's no mix in my grocery store, so I just use lean ground beef.]
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano, a couple of handfuls
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs, a couple of handfuls
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
6 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups dried pasta, rings, broken fettucini or ditalini [My store never has this. On the episode for this recipe, she recommended using the pasta salad macaroni. It looks like little rings.]
1 pound triple washed fresh spinach, coarsely chopped [I buy baby spinach and don't chop it. Hey, I already admitted I'm lazy.]
Grilled 4 Cheese Sandwiches, recipe follows
In a deep pot over medium heat add oil, chopped carrots, celery and onions and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook veggies 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the veggies cook, combine meat, egg, garlic, grated cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg.
Uncover your soup pot and add broth and water to the pot. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. When soup boils, reduce heat a bit and start to roll meat mixture into small balls, dropping them straight into the pot. You are making meat dumplings that will cook in the broth. When you are done rolling the meat, add pasta to the soup and stir. Cover and simmer soup 10 minutes. When pasta is tender, stir in chopped spinach in batches. When spinach has wilted into the soup, the soup is done and ready to serve. Adjust your seasonings. Serve soup with crusty bread or grilled 4 cheese sandwiches. [Make the grilled cheese, they are worth it!]
Grilled 4 Cheese Sandwiches
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan
3 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, cracked away from skin
8 slices crusty Italian semolina bread [I used sliced sourdough.]
1 cup shredded provolone [Instead of buying all four cheeses individually, I just buy one bag of the Italian shredded cheese mix. It works out to a little over two cups, so it's a good amount and the one in my store includes all four of these.]
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano
1 cup shredded Asiago
* All of these cheeses are available in specialty cheese case and dairy aisle already shredded
In a small skillet over medium low heat, combine oil, butter and garlic. Cook garlic in butter and oil gently for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove garlic butter mixture from heat.
Place a large nonstick skillet on the stove over medium high heat [or heat up your Foreman Grill]. Using a pastry brush, brush 1 side of 4 slices of bread with garlic oil and place buttered side down in skillet. Top each slice with equal amounts of the 4 cheeses, distributing them equally over the 4 slices. Top each sandwich with another slice of bread brushed with garlic butter, buttered side up. Flip the grill cheese sandwiches a few times until cheeses are melted and gooey and bread is toasty and golden. [See, if you use your Foreman grill, it cuts out steps. Just put the top down so the sammy grills on both sides at once.] Cut grilled 4 cheese sandwiches from corner to corner and serve.