Wedding is an elaborate tradition in some of the world’s oldest cultures, including Italian. Therefore, it would make perfect sense if there was such a thing as a wedding soup in Italy.
Folklore has it that the Italian wedding soup was served to the bride and groom as a symbol of union and to provide the energy they would need throughout the day- and evening-long wedding reception. There is no mention of nighttime activities so please don’t mistake the Italian wedding soup for an aphrodisiac.
The name of the soup in Italian is “minestra maritata”. We know minestra means “soup” (since everyone has heard of minestrone). Maritata means “married”, not “wedding”. The above folklore is just folklore – it’s not real. Minestra maritata or married soup is a celebration of the harmony of vegetables and meat in a soup.
Most people in the know think that the myth of the Italian wedding soup is caused by the misinterpretation of minestra maritata to wedding soup (instead of married soup). However, there’s a chance that those who made this soup popular in the United States knew exactly what they were doing. The Italian wedding soup is quite a bankable idea!
Only green vegetables are used. They can be any combination of endive, cabbage, lettuce, kale, and spinach. The modern American version of the Italian wedding soup uses chicken broth base and the meats are small meatballs and cut-up sausages. This is a light soup that is closer to what can be found in traditional Chinese restaurants.
The Old World version of minestra maritata is quite different. At the heart minestra maritata was a peasant soup, the kind of soup the peasant class would make if they could only scrape together odds and ends of meat. The meat would be added to lots of bitter greens in the class of kale and chard to make a thick soup that can be served as entrees.
The use of meatballs and Italian sausage is a give-away that the Italian wedding soup as we know it today is Americanized. It is arguably, however, an improved version of the original minestra maritata.