I have no idea what the actual name of this escarole soup is. These days you will find many menus that call it “Italian wedding soup.” No one I know ever called It that. In fact, it’s a name I never heard until recently. The other name for this escarole soup is “straciatella.” But this word, too, is one that I never heard until recently. Actually, when I was a kid, I really don’t recall any specific name for this soup. I think we just said escarole soup, or as we said it in our broken American Italian, “shka-roll.” “‘Scarole soup was not something we had every day. It was seen only on holidays. Escarole soup was the uncontested first course for the Christmas and New Year dinner. It would also make an appearance on Easter Sunday. Outside those holidays, I don’t recall ever having it. If my recollections are correct, this soup was reserved for the most special of all occasions. Perhaps, this is how it acquired the name “Italian wedding soup,” although I recall no wedding where this soup was ever served.
As I mentioned, the Italian name of the soup, “straciatella,” (strah-cha-tell-ah) is also new to me. In Italian the word “straccia” means “rags.” “Straciattella” would then translate to something like “raggedy.” I would assume that the soup takes this name from the raggedy strings formed when the beaten eggs are added to the broth. Now, when you search “straciatella” on either the Italian Google, you will be hard pressed to find a recipe like the one we know in America. First of all, many of the Italian references to straciatella have to do with gelato, or ice cream. In Italy, a straciatella gelato is a vanilla cream laced with waves of chocolate streams.
From what I found on Google.it straciatella soups, are something quite different. Nearly every recipe I found was a simple meat or chicken broth, sometimes with a chopped green, finished with the egg drippings. They Italian recipes were all very basic. I found none on Google.it that included the carrots or meatballs or chicken that my family used. It would therefor seem that “scarole” soup that many of us know, is an Italian American invention. What I find curious is just how did this recipe become so quickly widespread among the immigrant population? I’m a Philadelphian. Can we find this same recipe in Boston of Chicago or San Francisco?
A small note. The soup can include either a small pasta (pastina) or rice. When my mother makes this, she makes enough for a week. In this case, the rice or pastine are prepared separately and reserved in a side container. They are added to the soup only when it is reheated and served. Otherwise, the rice or pastine will engorge itself in the broth.