I'd love to tell you that this is my Mom's recipe or even my Grandma's recipe, but the truth is that when I was growing up, my mom hated to cook. I remember on more than one occasion hearing her mumble, groan, and lament about making dinner. It's not that my mom is a bad cook, in fact, quite the opposite, she just didn't enjoy doing it night after night. She had so many other things that she wanted to do, or needed to do for that matter.
Dad on the other hand has always loved to cook and loves to make soups in particular. I'm pretty sure that Dad does all the cooking now days. He can, and very often does, take an entire day to cook one meal. It's not just because he does things so slowly (which he does), but I think a lot of it is just the fact that he is having so much fun while doing it and therefore doesn't really worry about all the other things that he could be doing instead. So, why isn't this called, "Dad's Meatball Soup"? Well, because even though Dad makes a rockin' Albondigas, this is not his recipe.
This is my recipe, hence "Mama's" in the title. I won't lie to you. Originally, I did get this recipe from Rachael Ray during one of my Food Network obsessive periods. (Just for clarification, I am not a big Rachael Ray fan, so you call all just take one step back. I am an Alton Brown fan, but Alton is often a lot more technical than I need on a school night.) I've changed the Rachel Ray recipe just slightly (it's definitely NOT a 30-minute meal). However, if it peeves you enough that I "stole" this recipe, then by all means get the original recipe here.
Mama's Meatball Soup
Olive oil (use what tastes good to you, just enough to cook the veg in)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1-14.5 ounce can petite diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups chicken stock + 2 cups water (The original recipe calls for 6 cups chicken stock, but I find that with the added tomatoes, that much liquid is unnecessary. Use it if you need it though.
2 cups small dried pasta shapes (I like pipette)
Handful of fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley (optional)
For the meatballs: Combine the meat, egg, garlic powder, cheese, bread crumbs, and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Mix thoroughly with your hands making sure to get everything well incorporated without over-mixing it (I believe Alton once said that over-mixing leads to tough meatballs, but I could just be making that up.) Roll meatballs into bite size pieces. (I'm not very precise about this, I just eyeball it, but I usually end up with about 35 meatballs.) Refrigerate until needed.
For the soup: Heat the olive oil in a big pot over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, and bay leaves. Salt and pepper to your taste. Stir to coat the vegetables in oil then cover and leave them to cook for 5 minutes.
Next, add the stock, water, and tomatoes (including the liquid) to the vegetables. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Once the soup boils, slowly and very carefully, add the meatballs (don't dump them in all at once unless you want scalding hot soup everywhere). Once all the meatballs are in the bath, add your pasta and give it a good, gentle stir. Adjust your temperature to a gentle boil and simmer soup for about 10 minutes. Check that the pasta is done then serve with a little fresh cilantro or parsley in each bowl.
I'll leave you with these last thoughts on why I like this soup so much. Well, first for the most obvious reason, this is great comfort food and is especially good on chilly, wet, winter days. Even the kids enjoy it. More importantly, to me anyway, it's got meatballs in it! I don't know what it is about meatballs, but I L-O-V-E them. I want a t-shirt that says I ♥ meatballs. If you take some meat, roll it up in a ball and give it to me, I will gladly eat it regardless of how you cooked it or what you serve it with. As Alton has said, meatballs are good eats.
Finally, I think I like this soup so much because when I make it I feel that I'm channeling just a little bit of both my mom and dad. Many times I just don't feel like making dinner yet again for my family. I'm tired and uninspired and just a little bit whiny (for the record, my mom would never whine). When I'm feeling that way I start to make this soup and suddenly I feel a little like my dad too. I find myself enjoying making the meal and sometimes I get inspired to tweak the recipe just a bit. I've made this soup with turkey and chicken instead of beef. I've made it with different vegetables and different pasta (sometimes egg noodles). I've made a small batch for just two people, and really big batches for a big family gathering. And if I feel like I'm really tired of cooking, well I can just about make this soup in my sleep, which is how I imagine that Mom always felt when making Dad's favorite fried chicken.
So, get to it! Make it, eat it, and enjoy it!
(P.S. the above picture is for a version that I made with chicken, celery, rotini, and no tomatoes)