Sunday, December 9, 2012

Stock your Freezer 101: Italian Wedding Soup

Large batch cooking is a great way to stock the freezer for the upcoming chilly winter months. Yes, the amounts listed below may be intimidating, but if you take it one step at a time, and stay organized (plan ahead) you can make this large batch in a timely manner, without spending the entire day in the kitchen. I made this batch for a client in less 2 hours (actually, 1 .5 hours!). I actually already spent time working out the ratios, even before testing the recipe, so you make sure this recipe works (my client will pleased). And you can’t just take any ol’ on line recipe and multiple by 4 to make a large batch like this one; it just does not work!
Here are some tips for easing into the process:
·         Get your shopping done the day before; this will help break up the tasks.
·         Clear some space in your refrigerator (and freezer), so that you are not scrambling when the time comes
·         Makes sure you have all you pots and pans ready to go. You don’t need excessively large pots for this since you are making it in the steps addressed below. One large pasta pot will suffice. The last 4 quarts of broth are not added until after you thaw and reheat your soups; this saves space when cooking and when storing (and cooling).
·         Use a food processor to chop your garlic (if using fresh) and the parsley.
·         Have you freezer containers washed and ready to go. I purchased 4 GladWare® containers (you can get them right at the grocery store), in a bright red holiday color, for my client.
·         Have fun with it and don’t stress; it’s ok if it takes you more than 1.5 hours, after all, I am a trained chef and thrive on being speedy!!!

Lay your non-perishables on your kitchen table; this way, you wont take up prescious space in your kitchen!

Italian Wedding Soup

Makes 16 quarts
For the Meatballs:¼ cup finely chopped garlic
2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 lbs. lean ground pork (or half Italian sausage)
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup plain bread crumbs
½  cup finely chopped fresh parsley
4 eggs, beaten
For the Soup16 oz cups acini di pepe pasta, alphabet or stars
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper
4 large carrots, thinly sliced
 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
8 quarts low sodium chicken broth, divided
20 oz. baby spinach (2 bags)

1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Combine ingredients for meatballs in a large bowl. Mix well and use a small cookie dough scoop (or scant tablespoon) to shape meatballs. Place meatballs on 4 foil lined pans coated with cooking spray. Bake 2 batches at a time, depending on oven size, for about 20 minutes, until internal temperature is 160˚F. If you don’t have a digital thermometer, you should definitely invest in one. We have two, they are Taylor® 9842 certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF®). Remove from oven and cool slightly. Divide into 4 56-oz freezer safe containers such as GladWare®.

2. Cook pasta in a large pot of water until just tender, based on package directions. Drain in colander, return to pot and add 2 quarts stock (to help cool), along with salt and pepper. This base will be slightly salty and peppery but will be diluted when the remaining stock is added later in the process. Once cool, divided among the 4 containers. Place in refrigerator to begin chilling process. This will help drop the temperature while the remainder of the ingredients are prepared.
3. Next, place 1 quart of broth,  carrots and celery in a large pot. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.  If you were making a small batch of this soup, you could sauté the carrots and celery; for the large batch process, this makes for an easier step. Once vegetables are tender, heat over low and add spinach, 1 bag at a time, until wilted. Cool slightly.
4. Divide vegetable mixture among the containers. Use 1 quart of stock to top off the containers, until most of the ingredients are submerged. Adding the stock at room temperature also helps the cooling process. When working with large batches, cooling the food as quickly as possible is really important.
5. Return containers to refrigerator, uncovered, and cool for another hour, until temperature reaches about 70˚F. Next, cover and transfer to freezer.
6. When you are ready for some delicious soup, plan ahead and remove from freezer a day ahead of time. When reheating, add the additional stock, 1 quart per batch, until internal temperature reaches 160˚F.
7. If you like eggs swirled into your wedding soup, then beat together 2-3 eggs per batch of soup. Stir them in, once soup is hot, in a slow stream, until cooked and strands form. Serve with additional parmesan cheese if desired.

Ready for the freezer!
Yum! Homemade soup on a chilly evening:)

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