This hearty meatball soup was made with ground venison, home-made venison stock, and freshly foraged Cauliflower Mushrooms (Sparassis). If you aren’t fortunate enough to have all of these ingredients on hand, you can make this soup using the substitutions listed in the directions. Even with a few alternative ingredients, this will still be a great soup. However, the prize ingredient in this dish is the cauliflower mushroom.
Freshly foraged Cauliflower Mushrooms, Sparassis , are intricately formed, beautiful, and absolutely delicious. They have a unique pasta like texture that makes them an ideal soup ingredient. The particular structure and subtle umami flavors of Sparassis make them unlike any other mushroom. The recommended substitute I’ve listed for them is actually egg noodles.
The meatballs in this soup are made by combining venison with smoky bacon, and they are treats on their own. If you are pulling venison from your freezer and hamburger is packaged in 1 lb packages, go ahead and double the quantities of the meatball ingredients and make extra. Just be sure to thoroughly cook the extras if they will not be finished in the soup. They make great snacks, meatball sandwiches, or lunch box fillers.
The broth is infused with the rich flavor of the meatballs and it has just the right amount of acid from tomatoes. You will want to have plenty of nice crusty bread to soak up all the deliciousness. This makes a hearty and filling soup. I will be making this again once it is cold outside. I might not be able to recreate it with Cauliflower Mushroom as an ingredient in the dead of winter, but I will definitely be adding this meatball soup to our winter rotation and I’m sure it will still be great with whatever wild fungus and/or noodles we have on hand.
Makes 6 servings
- 2-3 cups cleaned and chopped Cauliflower Mushroom “noodles,” plus any thick pieces of the center of the mushroom to add to broth (2 cups cooked egg noodles could be added to finished soup as a substitute.)
- 2 celery stalks
- 2 medium carrots
- 1/2 sweet onion
- 8 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 7 cups total cooking stock/broth ideally including stock made from vegetable and mushroom scraps and venison stock (details in directions)
- 4 cups chopped spinach
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Splash of beer or white wine (if you happen to be drinking some)
- 1 slice of Parmesan rind (Always save rind from Parmesan cheese and store it in the freezer. It does magical things to soups and sauces.)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 lb Ground Venison
- 4-5 slices of bacon cooked and finely chopped
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, I use Johnny’s.
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- Cut and clean Sparassis by carefully removing lobes and cleaning them with a paintbrush to remove all dirt and debris. The thicker and tougher parts of the fungus should go into a stock pot with any vegetable scraps on hand plus a small pinch of salt. Simmer for at least 30 minutes while you are working on other components of the soup. The freshly made broth accounted for 3 cups of my total stock/broth. The remaining stock/broth I used was a combination of chicken stock and venison stock. Pour through a strainer to remove scraps.
- Cut carrots and celery into small pieces, set aside. Add scraps to the stock pot.
- Dice 1/2 onion, set aside. Add scraps including skin stock pot.
- Make meatballs by thoroughly combining all listed “Meatball” ingredients. I use my hands to mix meatballs and have never been happy with any other method.
- Heat 2 Tablespoons true Olive Oil in a large skillet on medium heat. I may have added bacon grease to the olive oil. Always save bacon grease, use it frequently and call it healthy olive oil. Form small quarter sized meat balls and brown in the “olive oil”. Work in small batches allowing proper browning and be sure to brown them on all sides. Properly browned meatballs should have a somewhat crispy and caramelized brown exterior. Rest the meatballs on paper towels. The meatballs that will be used in the soup just need to be browned, do not worry about completely cooking them yet. They will finish cooking while simmering in the soup. If you double the meatball recipe and are making extras for other purposes, be sure to cook them through.
- While meatballs are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in your soup pot. Add diced onions and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes stirring frequently. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 3-4 minutes.
- Add cauliflower mushrooms and saute for an additional 2 minutes. (If you do not have cauliflower mushrooms, replace 1 cup of the stock/broth with mushroom broth and add 2 cup cooked egg noodles to the finished soup.).
- Add 7 cups of stock/broth to the vegetables. I used 2 cups chicken broth, 2 cups venison stock and 3 cups of the freshly made vegetable stock. The assortment that you use will determine the amount of salt you will need to add to finish the soup. Commercially made stocks and broths tend to be saltier. So, taste the soup before adding more salt. Making your own broth/stock is time consuming, but it is a way to layer flavors and make incredibly delicious soup.
- Deglaze the meatball pan with a splash of beer or white wine and add that to the soup pot. If you don’t have this, deglaze with a bit of the broth.
- Add 8 ounces crushed tomatoes, Parmesan rind, thyme, celery seed, garlic powder and black pepper.
- Simmer for 25 minutes.
- Add meatballs to the soup pot and simmer an additional 15 minutes.
- Remove Parmesan rind.
- Add chopped spinach and cook an additional 3 minutes.
- Taste and add salt if needed.
- Top with sour cream and red pepper flakes for garnish and flavor.