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Chicken Soup with Tiny Chicken Meatballs

From Cucina Y Famiglia by Joan Tropiano Tucci and Gianni Scappio

One 3-pound free-range chicken, quartered
4 quarts water
2 large celery stalks, cut into thirds
2 medium-size carrots, cut into thirds
4 sprigs fresh parsley
1 large onion, peeled
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 very ripe or canned plum tomatoes, quartered

For the Meatballs
½ boneless skinless chicken breast
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup plain dried bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
Freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese for garnish (optional)

Place the quartered chicken in a large pot and cover with the water. Set the pot over medium-low heat and slowly bring the water to a simmer, skimming off any foam that accumulates on top. Add the celery, carrots, parsley, onion, and salt. Simmer, uncovered, to soften the vegetables, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue to simmer, with the lid slightly askew, to sweeten the tomatoes and make a flavorful broth, about 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken, carrots, and onion to a platter and set aside. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the celery, parsley, and tomatoes. Transfer 1 cup of the broth to a small pot. Return the rest of the broth to the large pot. Shred the cooked chicken, discarding bones and skin, and add to the large batch of broth. Dice the cooked carrots and onion. Add them to the large batch of broth. Cover the pot and keep the broth warm while you cook the meatballs.

In a food processor, finely chop the chicken breast. Transfer to a small bowl and add the egg, stirring with a fork to combine. Mix in the bread crumbs and Romano cheese. Season with salt to taste.

Use a ½-teaspoon measuring spoon to shape the mixture into small balls. Bring the small pot containing the 1 cup broth to a gentle boil and cook the meatballs, 8 to 10 at a time, in the broth until they are cooked through, about 5 minutes. As they finish cooking, transfer them with a slotted spoon to the large pot of broth.

When all the meatballs have been cooked and added to the broth, strain the broth the meatballs cooked in through a fine-mesh strainer and add it to the soup. Serve immediately, or set the soup aside at this point and reheat it a few hours later.

Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Variations: The beauty of soup is that it can be varied to accomodate ingredients you have (or don't have) on hand. Here are a few suggestions.

  • The cooked chicken may be served separately, rather then shredding it and adding it to the soup. Serve the soup, containing the vegetables and the chicken meatballs as a first course.
  • 2 cups cooked pasta, such as orzo, or 2 cups cooked rice may be added to the strained broth, and warmed through just before serving.
  • 2 medium-size all-purpose potatoes, peeled and quartered, may be added to the soup with the tomatoes. Return to the pot with the carrots and onion, and serve with the soup.
  • This soup may be prepared using a fowl. Allow an additional 30 minutes of cooking time to tenderize the meat.

Note: This rich broth may be strained and frozen for up to 3 months and used in recipes that call for chicken broth.