Oh how I love to hear my parents talk about the big traditional Sunday family dinners when they were growing up in the 1940s and 1950s. Their grandmothers, immigrants from Italy, would cook a huge Italian feast for dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles.
Homemade pasta, tomato sauce, a variety of meats, antipasto, soups, salads and breads were a part of almost every meal.
My mother fondly remembers freshly folded raviolis drying on towels all over her grandmother’s house in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens. My father fondly recalls his grandmother’s wonderful homemade sauce, slowly simmering away in her kitchen in Johnstown, NY. And both my parents recall the big, juicy, tender delicious meatballs that would always be served with the different pasta dishes.
Unfortunately, by the time I was growing up in the 1980s, this was mostly a thing of the past.
Times changed and my parents did what most baby boomers did back then – they moved away from their close-knit large families to the suburbs, to start their careers, and to start their own smaller family, but now without the support of close relatives.
As life got busier and more complicated, the family get-togethers faded and my parents relied more and more on highly processed supermarket Italian food (boxed dried pasta, jarred tomato sauces, quickly aged mass-produced cheeses, etc.) and what would become the new great suburban Italian-American tradition – Friday night pizza.
This is the Italian food I mostly grew up on and I’m gonna guess this is the Italian food you grew up on too (whether you have Italian roots or not).
I’m also guessing that if you’re following some form of a Paleo or low-carb diet that Italian food isn’t exactly on your shopping list.
But, contrary to popular belief, there are many aspects of Italian cuisine that could be considered low-carb or even grain-free.
Every now and then, I come across a dish that’s so simple and so flavorful, that I imagine this is something Italian grandmothers all over America made prior to World War II.
A great example is an Italian meatball soup. It’s basically just grass-fed meatballs in a bone broth infused with tomato paste, basil, thyme and parsley and then finished off with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Better yet, it’s something that could even be considered low-carb and it’s easily adapted for a grain-free or even dairy-free diet (though the addition of the parmesan cheese is quite magical). It’s become one of my absolute favorite Italian meals and whether you’re Italian or not, I’m confident you’ll agree.
This Italian meatball soup recipe is also included in my book, Fearless Broths and Soups, which you can learn a little more about below the recipe.
Key #1: Make your own bone broth!
If you’re a regular Fearless Eating reader, you definitely know about the awesome benefits of bone broth. Store-bought broths just can’t compare in health value or taste. And though they may seem cheap, over time, you’ll save a lot more money-making your own. If you’re new to it, here’s how to make chicken and beef broth.
Key #2: Learn to make meatballs the way Italian great grandmothers made meatballs
I’ve made A LOT of fairly flat-tasting and overly tough meatballs. Here’s a few tips to help you out:
First, adding some parmesan cheese (OK to skip this if you’re dairy-free) and Italian herbs to the ground meat mixture will add some nice flavors.
Second, make sure to brown the meatballs on all sides which will help lock in the flavor. Also, make sure to do this in the same pot for the soup as the browned bits will add flavor.
And third, adding breadcrumbs to the meatballs helps maintain a nice soft texture when the meatballs cook in the soup. Obviously, if you want this to be a grain-free recipe, you’ll have to skip this step and that’s OK. It’s totally optional and the soup will still be delicious.
However, here’s what’s not optional: Please don’t use store-bought breadcrumbs! I know they’re convenient but they’re full of junk ingredients like vegetable oils and artificial flavorings. Making your own breadcrumbs is as easy as adding a few slices of bread (ideally sourdough) to a food processor. Here’s a good post from The Prairie Homestead for how to make homemade bread crumbs.
Key #3: Use a good quality tomato paste
I prefer using tomato paste, as opposed to a tomato puree, because it adds a nice savory tomato flavor without overwhelming the soup with too much tomato flavor.
Now you could certainly make your own homemade tomato paste but I’m going to go ahead and guess you don’t want to spend 5 hours making it at home?
If I’m right about that, for a good quality organic store-bought brand, try this one:
It has a much fresher flavor than canned versions. It also comes in glass jars so there’s no concern over BPA nor will you get an off-putting tinny flavor.
OK, on to the recipe!
Grass-fed meatballs in a bone broth infused with tomato paste, basil, thyme and parsley and then finished off with some freshly grated parmesan cheese. Yum!
My book, Fearless Broths and Soups, has many more simple, low-carb sausage and meatball soup recipes including:
The book also includes chapters for making homemade broths and using them in creative ways such as broth for breakfast recipes, Asian noodle soups, creamy vegetables soups, and seafood-based soups.
All of the recipes emphasize simplicity. They’re geared to all you stressed out moms and dads, workaholics and non-cooks trying to figure out how to eat well with limited funds and time.
And these days, that’s just about everyone.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.