“The Food of Love:” Italian Wedding Soup

Do you know how Italian Wedding Soup began? Read on to find out about this delicious and fascinating soup!

Venice, Italy

Hey, John!

Help! Maria and I want to bring our Italian heritage into our wedding. When I told Grandfather Renato that we are serving Italian Wedding Soup, he became very gruff and said it was not traditional. Why is he so ticked off?

Thanks for answering!

–Luca in Lincoln, Oregon

Hey, Luca!

Thanks for the great question!

While in America we think of Italian Wedding Soup as a wonderful Italian comfort food and reminds us of joyful weddings, the history of the dish is vastly different.

Yes, it is a traditional Italian soup from Italy (rather than a dish invented in the U.S. and assigned to another nation’s culinary tradition). Italian Wedding Soup originated in the southern Italian region of Campania where it is called “Minestra Maritata,” or “wedded broths.” Now you know where the wedding concept originated! The name refers to the soup’s nuanced flavors which as they are simmered seem to become betrothed and blended together.

(Yes, I realize that is a photo from Venice in Italy’s north and not the region where this soup originated.)

Venice Italy canal
Italy outdoor steps

Here is why your grandfather–your “nonno” in Italian–might have been upset.  The soup is not associated with weddings in Italy but with the annual pig slaughter in the Alto Casertano region. When pigs come to the end of their life cycle, their bones are boiled with any prosciutto left over from last year while the broth is enhanced with cardoons, escarole, and dandelion greens.

Each region has its own spin on the soup.  In southern Campania’s Irpinia zone deep in the Apennine Mountains, a salami called Nnoglia di Maiale, is added.

In Naples, Minestra Maritata is traditionally served on December 26, the Feast of Santo Stefano because it is famous for its ability to restore one’s health after too much partying. Since Naples is a wealthier region than several of those previously mentioned, there is more meat content in the soup in Naples. 

In Naples, three broths are combined: hen, beef shank, and pork skin. Plus, about a dozen cultivated or foraged greens are gathered from nearby Mt. Vesuvius. (Yep! The volcano!) These are prepped and join the broths.

Along the Amalfi Coast, this soup is served at Christmas and at Easter. Since local ingredients are used, the soup’s winter and spring versions could be considered as two dishes.

harbor at Naples, Italy
Naples, Italy

People—and their cherished family recipes—immigrated to America. Many culinary historians believe the recipe came with people from Campania when they sailed to America. Those from Campania prepared the soup only in the winter while those from Naples served the soup in winter and spring. There was a problem: In America, the Italians couldn’t find the variety of bitter herbs grown in central and south Italy so the cooks reduced the number of greens to escarole only.

Other changes to the soup occurred over time: The memories of the soup’s connection to the pig demise lessened before fading into oblivion. The beef and pork meatballs were replaced with small, juicy chicken meatballs…which almost made this a brand new soup!

There are many ways to celebrate your Italian heritage during your wedding and reception. If you have additional questions, please reach out to me. I’m happy to help!


Your friend in the wedding business,

John Shyne


island off Italy surrounded by sea

Images courtesy of Pixabay.com.

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