Session 5 – Holiday Soup and Zuppa di Fagioli con la Pasta

Winter is well on its way, which means it is time to start stocking up on soup! This cooking session I chose 2 Italian soups from the box. The first is “Holiday Soup”, which is very similar to Italian wedding soup. This was my mom’s favorite soup to make, in addition to her Tortellini soup (to be cooked in another session). The second soup, Zuppa di Fagioli con la Pasta is basically a variation of pasta fagioli soup.

There were a few ingredients needed that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find at my local grocery store, but I was pleasantly surprised to find escarole for the Holiday Soup right away in the produce section, and “salt pork” for the Zuppa di Fagioli, which I had never heard of before but I was able to find with the prepared pork in the meat section. For the additional ham for the zuppa, I decided to use ham off the bone from the deli counter.



The first step of the cooking process was to make exactly one million tiny meatballs for the Holiday Soup. For that big undertaking, I enlisted the help of my friend/panelist Gordon from Manayunk! Aren’t our aprons adorable? If you are taking on this task by yourself, you can always roll out the meatballs the night before and put them in an airtight container overnight. Or, just anticipate at least a half hour to your prep time for this step.

With this recipe, you actually get a DOUBLE family recipe – the meatballs are our family’s preferred method as well. Mom never used any binders or fillers (like eggs or breadcrumbs) and I really appreciate the non-gussied up flavor of these nothing-but-meat balls. The rest of the soup comes together super quickly, boil broth, add raw meatballs, simmer, add greens and seasonings, then serve (I opted to omit the eggs because I was freezing the soup after). Nice!

For the Zuppa Fagioli, I opted to use canned beans (instead of starting with dried beans), which cut significant time off of the cooking process. The original recipe called for the use of salt pork to help enrich the soup broth, but the soup came out incredibly salty because of it. The recipe I list below omits the salt pork; the broth and ham off the bone will give enough flavor to the soup without it. After chopping up and sauteing the ham and veggies, you bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil and simmer. Then, [after removing the salt pork] you remove half of the ham and beans and puree them, whisking them back into the soup. This thickens up the broth and makes a nice creamy soup. Add pasta, and serve with a little cheese on top. This would also be great with a nice rustic bread.


The Holiday Soup came out fantastic – just like mom used to make. When I make it again, I think I am going to switch to turkey meatballs, just personal preference. Gordon also highly approved of the soup! The Zuppa Fagioli also came out better than I expected. The Ditalini pasta was a perfect pairing with the beans, and the ham off the bone was also really great flavoring. As mentioned above, I think it came out a little salty but that’s an easy fix for next time. Gordon also really liked this soup as well! Both soups were a success, and the Holiday Soup can also be easily veganized 🙂 .


Holiday Soup

Ingredients – serves 4 to 5

1lb ground beef
1 TBSP onion powder
1 TBSP garlic powder
1/2 TBSP savory
1 TBSP worcestershire sauce
fresh cracked salt & pepper

8C (64oz) low sodium chicken broth
1 large head of escarole, rinsed & roughly chopped
2-3 TBSP lemon juice
salt & pepper, garlic powder
3 beaten eggs (optional)
grated aged parmesan


To make meatballs, mix ground beef with spices, adding salt & pepper to taste. Roll into small, half inch meatballs. Set aside. In large pot, bring broth to a boil. Reduce to low heat and carefully add in meatballs and escarole. Simmer for about 15 minutes until meatballs are cooked. Add lemon juice and seasonings to taste. If desired, bring back to a boil and stir in beaten eggs just before serving. Serve with parmesan.

ProTips: To make this process less daunting, you can make the meatballs ahead and keep them in the fridge overnight or freeze them until you are ready to use in the soup. You could also use ground turkey or chicken for the meatballs, just omit the worcestershire sauce for the chicken. If you plan on freezing the soup after your meal, do not add in egg as it will not freeze well.

Vegan ProTips: Substitute vegan sausage of your choosing and veggie broth to make an equally delicious soup!


Zuppa di Fagioli con la Pasta

Ingredients – serves 4 to 5

2 TBSP olive oil
1/2lb cooked ham off the bone, diced
1/2 C onion, diced
1/4 C celery, diced
1/2 TSP minced garlic
4C water
4C (32oz) low sodium chicken broth
(3) 15.5oz cans of cannellini beans
1C dry small pasta (I used ditalini)
salt & pepper, grated aged parmesan
[1/4 lb salt pork – note, this was omitted in final recipe]


In a large pot, heat pan over medium high heat. Add oil and reduce heat to medium. Add ham, onion, celery, and garlic. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add water and broth and beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for an hour. Using a strainer or slotted spoon, remove half of the beans/ham. In a food processor, puree beans/ham with a tiny bit of broth. When creamy, whisk back into the soup. Bring to a boil and add in pasta. Reduce heat and partially cover, cooking for 10 minutes or to desired pasta texture. Season to taste and serve with parmesan.

ProTips: You can use any white bean for this soup. Most deli counters will have a ham off the bone variety. Ask them for half inch thick slices, it should be about 2 to get you to half pound.


Session 4 – Juicy Chicken, Dill Carrots, and Cherry Crisp

This session’s recipes feature a Meier classic from Granny Ruth Meier – Juicy Chicken! If you mention juicy chicken to anyone in the Meier family, you will be met with a simultaneous cringe, smile, and shake of the head. This was Granny’s favorite. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point growing up this became What Was For Dinner. Holiday, lunch, dinner, weekday, weekend – it was all juicy chicken. Now, don’t get me wrong. Juicy chicken is most DEFINITELY amazing (as long as you are not lactose intolerant). But it became somewhat of an eye-rolling inside joke of the family. I present to you, the secret ingredients:


Oh yeah. How could you go wrong?

The process is simple – combine equal parts soup with sour cream, pour over chicken breasts, add bacon, bake forever. I wanted to go for a more mushroom base than we typically did, in which case pour mushrooms over the bacon. Now, if my memory serves me correctly, Granny usually just picked ONE of these amazing soups, which didn’t yield much extra sauce after baking, and the cream of celery on it’s own is bland. So I added both pictured here, and did half the dish with sauteed mushrooms.

I made up some dill carrots (from the recipe box) and wild rice to serve the meal with. For dessert I made a Rubright favorite – my mom’s go-to dessert for parties: Cherry Crisp. Simplest dessert ever. All you need is a can of cherry filling and some yellow cake mix. Pour out the cherry filling in a pie dish or glass baking dish, coat generously with cake mix and melted butter, and bake. I served the crisp with some plain old vanilla ice cream, but it’s really delicious just on it’s own.



Left to Right: Randy and Cousins Dan and Nancy of the Blayney tribe. They were more than happy to be guinea pigs for this cooking session!

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Everything was a hit! Especially the bacon. Nancy and Randy preferred the non-mushroom side, but Dan (who doesn’t even like mushrooms!) preferred the dish with mushrooms. I’m seeing a trend here, Dan! The carrots were a really great compliment to the wild rice, and the cherry crisp was also a huge hit. These recipes are definitely here to stay! I only wish there was a way to vegan-ize the chicken so that James could enjoy Juicy Chicken once again  🙂 .


Juicy Chicken

Ingredients – serves 4 to 5

(1) 10.5 oz can cream of mushroom soup
(1) 10.5 oz can cream of celery soup
(1) 16 oz container light sour cream
4 lbs boneless chicken breasts
thick cut bacon
crushed black pepper & parmesan to taste

(2) 8 oz cartons of sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 TBSP butter
2 TBSP worcestershire sauce
2 TBSP red wine
dash onion powder
dash garlic powder
cracked black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine soups and sour cream in a large bowl, set aside.

For mushrooms: In medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add mushrooms and sautee for 2 minutes, stirring. Add remaining ingredients and sautee for additional 3 minutes, stirring. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until mushrooms are about 2/3rds their original size.

Arrange chicken breasts in a large glass baking dish. Cover them with the sour cream mixture. Cut bacon strips into thirds and cover the chicken. Pour mushrooms (and its juices) over top; sprinkle crushed black pepper and parmesan over entire dish. Bake in oven for 2 hours. Serve warm over wild rice.

ProTips: Mushrooms in this dish are completely optional. It tastes amazing without, and the cream of mushroom soup won’t give a mushroom taste believe it or not. The number of chicken breasts you use will be dependent on the size you buy – it may or may not be “4 lbs” worth. Just buy a flat of them, keeping in mind how many people you will be serving.


Dill Buttered Carrots

Ingredients – serves 4 to 6

(2) lb bags baby carrots
1/4 C butter
1 tsp dill weed
dash onion powder
salt to taste


Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add in remaining ingredients and stir until evenly coated. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes or until tender.

ProTips: You can just use 1 bag of carrots and a bit less butter if you are cooking for less people.

Vegan ProTips: Swap out Vegan butter!


Cherry Crisp

Ingredients – serves 4 to 5

(1) 21 oz can Lucky Leaf cherry pie filling
1 C yellow cake mix
1/4 C butter, melted


Preheat oven to 400ºF. Spoon out cherries into pie dish, spreading evenly. Cover evenly with cake mix; pour melted butter n a spiral to coat most of the cake mix (it will not be perfect, this is OK!). Bake for 30 minutes, serve warm.

ProTips: Don’t be afraid to be liberal with the cake mix. Serving with ice cream is delicious.

Vegan ProTips: Swap out Vegan butter, make sure the cake mix is vegan (which it should be!).