Fresh kale, an ingredient of this soup .Image by azboomer from Pixabay

There’s a chill in the air, and it’s time for soup.  Try this satisfying update on traditional meatball soup.  The meatballs are a snap to make; by using sausage, I cut down prep time and amp up flavor.  Tuscany’s famous cavolo nero (black kale) is tasty and nutritious, looks gorgeous in the soup and is quick to clean and chop.  And finally, the pearl barley adds nice bite and loads of nutrition  Don’t skimp; use the good stuff – pearl barley from Umbria, the most flavorful in the world.

If you can not find it at your neighborhood Italian market, go to, a tremendous source for Italian food products.  Served with a green salad and a loaf of crusty bread, this is a perfect Fall dinner.
Zuppa di Cavolo Nero con Salsiccia ed Orzo
Black Kale, Sausage and Barley Soup
makes about 25 1 inch meatballs
1/2 pound Italian sausage with fennel seeds
1/2 small onion, grated
1 large egg yolk plus half an egg white
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
generous 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 medium onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 quarts brodo di pollo (chicken stock)
1/2 cup pearl barley
1 bunch (about 9 ounces) cavolo nero, rinsed, inner ribs removed and discarded, cut into 1 inch slices
1/2  teaspoon kosher salt
generous pinch Peperoncino flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to finish soup, if desired
Make the meatballs:
Remove sausages from their casings.  Discard casings.  Break sausage into small pieces.  Set aside.  In medium bowl combine onion, egg yolk and white, parsley, salt and pepper.  Add cheese and bread crumbs, and combine well.  Add sausage meat.  Gently mix.  Form 1 inch meatballs.  Place meatballs on parchment lined sheet pan while you make soup.
Make the soup:
In a 6 quart pot heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion, salt and peperoncino flakes.  Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant, being careful not to let it brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Add chicken stock.  Bring to boil and add barley.  Lower heat to a mild simmer.  Cook 10 minutes.  Add meatballs.  Cook 5 minutes to allow meatballs to firm up.  Place kale over meatballs, pressing gently to submerge.  Simmer gently about 20 minutes or  until kale has softened and barley is cooked to your liking.  Serve with a bit of olive oil drizzled over soup, if desired.  Grate Parmigiano over soup.
Brodo di pollo
Chicken Stock
Easy to make, this kitchen staple is far superior to store-bought products.  There are three keys to clear and pure tasting brodo.  First, use fresh ingredients.  Second, diligently skim the scum and foam which, if left behind, will impart a bitter taste and opacity to the brodo.  I recommend using a long handled steel mesh skimmer, available at kitchenware shops and Amazon.
Third, remove as much of the surface fat as possible while keeping the stockpot well off the boil.  Removing the fat is best done with a metal spoon.  If you allow the fat to remain and the pot stays at a rolling boil, the fat will emulsify in the brodo, and it will taste greasy.  Keep the stockpot at a lazy simmer and skim frequently to achieve pure chicken flavor with not a hint of bitterness or grease.
1 chicken, about 4 1/2 to 5 pounds, cut up, visible pieces of fat removed and discarded
2 leeks, rinsed, white part only, cut into 1 inch slices
2 carrots, peeled, cut in 1 inch chunks
2 ribs of celery, leaves attached, cut in 1 inch chunks
8 sprigs of Italian parsley
10 black peppercorns
about 2 quarts filtered water, or enough to cover the chicken and aromatics
Place chicken in 8 quart stockpot, adding enough cold water to cover by 2 inches.  Over high heat bring to boil, skimming to remove foam and scum.  Once pot has reached a boil, reduce heat to medium low to maintain a simmer.  Continue skimming until no more foam or scum rises.  Add 1 cup very cold water to encourage the last of the scum to rise.  Skim. 
Add vegetables, parsley and peppercorns.  With stockpot partially covered, continue cooking about 2 hours more, checking often to be certain vegetables are submerged.  Using a metal spoon, remove fat, foam or scum.  Check brodo at 2 hours; it should be a light yellow.  If  you want it a bit darker, cook thirty minutes longer.  Remove from heat.  Strain through dampened cheesecloth or fine sieve into glass container.  Do not press; that will cloud the brodo.  Discard bones and vegetables, reserving meat for another purpose.
Use immediately or refrigerate.   As it cools, fat will rise to the top and form a solid layer easily removed using a metal spoon.  These last steps, refrigerating the brodo and then removing the last bit of fat, contribute to a clear brodo.  Store, well covered, in refrigerator 2 days or freeze 6 months.
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